DOHA, April 20, (AFP): FIFA ignored any problems to do with World Cup stadium construction, including human rights, up to and including Brazil in 2014, a senior official admitted on Wednesday.
Federico Addiechi said football’s governing body did not view anything concerned with the building of venues for football’s biggest tournament as its “problem”.
His admission came during a lively session at a human rights conference in Doha, where FIFA was also attacked for “how little” its done on the plight of migrant workers in Qatar.
New president Gianni Infantino was criticised for his non-attendance by Amnesty International, and a Bangladeshi delegate pleaded with Qatar to treat workers with “respect”.
And one union leader — Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation — claimed she had been followed the previous evening by security services.
It was Addiechi though who was largely in the firing line.
FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility, conceded his organisation had made mistakes.
“In the past we did not recognise the work done in connection with the construction of the stadiums for the World Cup as part of our responsibility,” he said.
“We are doing that now.
“But even until the World Cup in Brazil we always said … the stadiums are not commissioned by us, we don’t have a contractual relationship with the owners, we are only using it for one month … and therefore if there are problems, there’s someone else you talk (to) about the problem, certainly not FIFA.”
However, he stressed that had been overturned with FIFA’s recent adoption of a human rights policy and it now recognises its responsibilities.
“We’re doing it — we can argue is it late, is it not late, this is a discussion that is definitely debatable — but in many aspects we are still at the forefront of the sports industry,” he said.
“We are the ones who have taken this on board again as a leader.”
Stadium construction has become a sensitive issue in the run-up to the Qatar 2022 tournament, with widespread allegations of labour abuse, denied by officials in the Gulf.
In March, Amnesty claimed workers at Qatar’s Khalifa International Stadium suffered abuse and had been subjected to forced labour.
Qatar said Amnesty painted “a misleading picture”.
Infantino was due to begin his first visit to Qatar as FIFA president on Wednesday evening.
However, Amnesty’s Mustafa Qadri, the author of the recent report alleging abuse, asked why Infantino was not at the “Asia Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights”.
“Where is Gianni Infantino?” he asked.
Other high-profile attendees included Professor John Ruggie, the author of the recent human rights report commissioned by FIFA, and Hassan Al-Thawadi, the head of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body overseeing organisation of the 2022 tournament.
Also in Doha were World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola, unions and other NGOs.
Qadri added that FIFA had only held its first human rights working group meeting in Qatar, last November, five years after the Gulf country was chosen to host the tournament.
In response to the emotional plea from the Bangladeshi delegate, Thawadi said: “I assure you are in our minds and in our hearts and we respect everything that you have done.
“And we respect every contribution that every worker has made and I do apologise to every worker that you’ve talked to and that has been living in hard conditions.”
Professor Ruggie denied media reports Qatar could lose the World Cup because of its human rights record.
“The report is not designed to exclude countries by definition, otherwise we’d only have World Cups in Norway,” he said.