Gareth Southgate was criticized for claiming Qatari workers were “united” in wanting the World Cup

Gareth Southgate is facing criticism from human rights groups after claiming workers in Qatar were “united” in wanting the World Cup to take place, despite the country’s poor record on employment rights.

The England coach’s comments were disputed by Human Rights Watch, which said families of migrant workers who died, were injured or were cheated out of their wages had said they “would like to support the World Cup but can’t because their children are starving and their breadwinners died in Qatar”.

Amnesty International warned that although many migrant workers in Qatar were football fans, the majority were more interested in having their rights fully protected and being properly paid than in the World Cup.

Southgate made his comments in an interview with CNN, where he acknowledged there were ongoing problems with Qatar but said there was no doubt the World Cup should go ahead.

“I’ve been out to Qatar several times and I’ve met a lot of the workers out there and they’re united in one thing, which is that they want the tournament to happen, and they want it because they love football.” he said. “They want football to come to Qatar.”

But Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, suggested such a view was “naïve at best and certainly does not reflect the harsh lived reality of many migrant workers in Qatar and across the Gulf”.

“Firstly, migrant workers in Qatar cannot speak freely because of security concerns, and the FA should know this,” she told the Guardian.

“Secondly, have Gareth Southgate and the FA attempted to contact migrant workers and families of those who died from Nepal, India, Kenya or elsewhere? Any family that has received a loved one and breadwinner home in a coffin without compensation from Fifa and Qatar cannot cheer on the opening of this WC.

“Southgate faces no risks in speaking to migrant workers, but migrant workers do face risks in speaking to him, including losing their jobs and being deported if they say something Qatari officials think is wrong.

There are many migrant workers who are proud of the work they have done to build the World Cup in Qatar. But there are also many who have suffered preventable deaths and injuries and until the deaths, loans, injuries and wage theft are compensated, it is not accurate to say that all migrant workers are “united”.

A worker stands in front of a sign for the World Cup in Qatar 2022
Human rights groups have said that while many workers are football fans, they are more interested in having their rights protected and being properly paid. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The issue of human rights in Qatar remains an issue, despite Fifa and the Qatari organizers claiming that significant reforms have taken place. Last year, the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers had died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup 10 years ago. A more recent survey found that workers employed on World Cup-related projects would have to work 12-hour shifts over 30 days a month to earn the equivalent of around £1 an hour.

In his interview, Southgate stressed that the Football Association had been working with human rights groups to help them seek redress before the tournament kicks off on November 20. “We are trying to support these ideas with compensation for families who have lost workers and a center for workers’ rights,” he said. “So we support the things we’ve been asked to support.”

However, Ella Knight, Amnesty International’s migrant labor rights researcher, said much more needed to be done by Fifa and football as a whole.

“Many workers in Qatar will of course be football fans, but what migrant workers have really emphasized to us is the need to have their rights fully protected, to be properly paid, to be able to change jobs freely and to enjoy safe and dignified working conditions – before, during and after this tournament, she said.

“The World Cup is about to take place with important labor reforms still very much unfinished, and thousands of worker abuses remain unaddressed.

“The opening match is now less than three weeks away and Fifa has yet to commit to healing workers and their families for the abuses they have suffered despite widespread support from the public, football associations, players and World Cup sponsors. We call on the FA to maintain its pressure on Fifa and press it to recognize and urgently address the suffering of workers without whom the World Cup would simply not be possible.”

Qatar’s Supreme Committee, which is responsible for organizing the tournament, has insisted there have been improvements. In a statement last month, it said: “The progress in workers’ welfare is a legacy we are very proud of, and one we are already seeing in action. We have always believed that the FIFA World Cup will be a catalyst to accelerate positive initiatives and leave a legacy of meaningful and sustainable progress for the country and the region.”

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