Dispute over the legacy of staging the men’s World Cup in Qatar broke out on the floor of the Fifa Congress on Thursday, with the president of the Norwegian Football Federation calling for stronger action, only for the head of Qatar’s Supreme Committee to insist she “educate” herself over the issues.
In a tightly managed set-piece event in Doha before Friday’s World Cup draw, Lise Klaveness’s address upset the consensus when she said Fifa must act as a “role model” and called on the organisation to do more to support the families of migrant workers who had been killed and those injured working on the World Cup project.
“Our game can inspire dreams and break down barriers but as leaders we must do it right and to the highest standards,” said Klaveness, a former Norway international. “We cannot ignore the calls for change and how Fifa runs the game has so much to say for how the game is perceived. Fifa must act as a role model.
“In 2010 World Cups were awarded by Fifa in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences. Human rights, equality and democracy – the core interests of football – were not in the starting XI.. These basic rights were pressured on to the field as substitutes, mainly by outside voices. Fifa has addressed these issues but there is still a long way to go.”
Klaveness went on to call for specific reforms. “Migrant workers injured or families of those who died in the buildup to the World Cup must be cared for.”
The Norwegian FA president’s speech was followed by an unexpected address from the general secretary of the Honduran FA, José Ernesto Mejía, who said it was not “the right forum or the right moment” to make such remarks.
The secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), Hassan al-Thawadi, then gave a passionate address defending the steps Qatar has taken since winning the right to host the World Cup. He said the country had undertaken “12 years of continuous work … dedicated to ensuring this tournament leaves truly transformational social, human, economic and environmental legacies to be remembered. We are acutely aware of the spotlight that comes with hosting the greatest show on earth and we have embraced it.”
Thawadi said that the most important legacy of the World Cup would be to correct prejudices that saw the Arab world as a place of conflict. He said he also wanted to reassure those concerned over a social legacy, citing the positive reports made by international trade unions over the development of workers’ rights. “Our adversaries have become allies,” he said “[and] even our harshest critics such as Amnesty recognise our commitment.”
He also criticised Klaveness for not speaking to the SC individually about Norwegian concerns. “On [the issue of a] social legacy, I would like to assure the Norwegian FA,” he said. “[But] I’d like to express a disappointment. Madame president visited our country and did not request a meeting. She did not attempt a dialogue before addressing Congress today. We have always been open for dialogue, we always welcomed constructive criticism. We have always had the doors open for anybody who wants to understand the issues, who wants to educate themselves before passing any judgment.”
The Guardian understands that Klaveness has addressed Thawadi personally over the social legacy in Qatar as part of a Uefa working group which has visited the country.
There was also controversy over a moment later in the Congress when Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, presented a video documenting the progress made on workers’ and human rights in Qatar since it won the World Cup.
The video said that the SC was instrumental in ending the kafala system in the country and featured the general secretary of the Building and Woodworkers’ International, Ambet Yuson, praising improvements in worker safety. “The health and safety standards in the stadium construction sites are at the same level as the health and safety standards in Europe,” Yuson said.
The video also showed Piara Powar, chief executive of the Fare network which campaigns for equality in football, talking about dialogue over the safety of LGBTQ+ supporters in Qatar, where homosexuality remains illegal. Although Powar is quoted as being positive about the process, the Guardian understands that he also expressed concerns over a continued lack of guarantees over supporter safety, remarks not in the video.
On Thursday 16 organisations focused on LGBTIQ+ rights called for the SC to act on supporter safety, saying that action has been slow and that “reassurances about the safety of LGBTIQ+ people and the mechanisms in place to ensure safety have not been adequate”. The organisations said they had submitted eight requests for action to Fifa and the SC, but had yet to receive any response from the latter.
Infantino announced he was to run for a second four-year term as president.