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FIFA World Cup: Ottawa ‘very concerned’ over Qatar worker issues, joins rights calls

Click to play video: 'Government diplomats must ‘speak out on these abuses’ if attending 2022 FIFA World Cup: Human Rights Watch'
Government diplomats must ‘speak out on these abuses’ if attending 2022 FIFA World Cup: Human Rights Watch
WATCH - Government diplomats must ‘speak out on these abuses’ if attending 2022 FIFA World Cup: Human Rights Watch – Oct 28, 2022

Ottawa is joining calls for “transparency and robust measures” to protect migrant workers who built the infrastructure needed for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The international soccer tournament, which kicks off later this month in the Arab nation, has been the subject of controversy ever since Qatar was announced as the host nation in 2010. Canada’s men’s national team will play in the World Cup after qualifying for it for the first time in 36 years.

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That qualification is a “historic event” and many Canadians look forward to cheering the team on, said Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge. But, the federal government is “very concerned” over reports of mistreatment of migrant workers.

“Everyone, no matter where they live or work, deserves a safe and healthy working environment. They deserve for their human rights to be respected. We are very concerned about reports of dangerous working conditions in building the World Cup stadia and infrastructure, especially those resulting in death,” St-Onge told Global News in a statement.

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“We join international partners in calling for transparency and robust measures to protect the health, safety, dignity, and human rights of all working to ensure the tournament is a success.”

Click to play video: 'Migrant worker rights put in the spotlight ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup'
Migrant worker rights put in the spotlight ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup

When Qatar was named host nation 12 years ago, the country had a population of 350,000. It has since boomed to 2.6 million due to migrants working to build the infrastructure, like stadiums, needed for the tournament.

Among some of the allegations of mistreatment of migrant workers are that thousands have died on the job, have experienced wage theft and in some cases had their passports withheld by their employers, said Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in an interview with Global News last week.

HRW and other human rights groups like Amnesty International are calling on participating nations to support calls for soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, and Qatar to create a US$440-million remedy fund to compensate workers and improve worker protections.

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Read more: FIFA World Cup: Canada faces ‘really steep’ challenge in Qatar. Who are they playing?

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Alasdair Bell, FIFA deputy secretary general, has said the organization is open to talks on remedy and reparations. But in an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Qatar’s labour minister rejected those calls, saying the government has already handed out millions in unpaid wages.

Qatar’s ruling emir has called the criticism an “unprecedented campaign” targeting the first Arab nation to host the tournament. Qatar has repeatedly pushed back, insisting it has improved protections for migrant workers and claiming the criticism is outdated.

Last Friday, Canada Soccer, the sport’s governing body in the nation, released a statement saying it “supports the ongoing pursuit of further progress regarding workers’ rights and inclusivity as Qatar prepares to host the world.”

“While strides have been made in strengthening protections for workers through the Qatar government’s labour reforms, we encourage all partners to continue the dialogue ensuring these reforms translate to tangible improvement in protections for workers’ rights and inclusivity across the country beyond the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” the body said.

Click to play video: 'Diplomatic boycott over FIFA World Cup ‘doesn’t go far enough’: Human Rights Watch'
Diplomatic boycott over FIFA World Cup ‘doesn’t go far enough’: Human Rights Watch

Soccer associations and the governments of other participating nations have spoken out over the reported abuses.

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Fifteen U.S. congress members sent a letter to FIFA’s president in September calling for a compensation fund to be created. Germany’s interior minister last week appeared to criticize the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar because of its human rights record in a local broadcast. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador as a result of the minister’s remarks.

The United States Soccer Federation and six European federations are backing calls for a compensation fund. Several teams are also raising issues regarding the safety of LGBTQ2 fans, given homosexual acts are illegal in the conservative Muslim country.

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Qatar has vowed LGTBQ2 fans won’t face arrest, but Qatari security forces arbitrarily arrested and abused LGBTQ2 Qataris as recently as last month, HRW said on Oct. 24. The Arab nation has rejected those accusations.

FIFA on Friday urged the 32 teams preparing for the World Cup to focus on the game in Qatar, and not to allow the sport “to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”

In an Oct. 28 tweet, St-Onge said the safety of Canadians attending the World Cup must be secured.

“Being gay is not something you leave at the door when you enter a foreign country. Sport should be open to all, and fans should be able to cheer for their team as their authentic self,” the minister said.

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“The safety & security of all Canadians who attend the FIFA World Cup must be ensured.”

Qatar minister slams ‘hypocrisy’ of people calling for World Cup boycott

Qatar’s foreign affairs minister has said people calling for a World Cup boycott do not represent the rest of the world, which is looking forward to the tournament.

“The reasons given for boycotting the World Cup do not add up. There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told Le Monde, Reuters reported on Friday.

Supporters display a banner reading ‘Boycott Qatar 2022’ prior to the start of the UEFA Europa League Group G football match between SC Freiburg and Olympiacos FC in Freiburg, southwestern Germany on Oct. 27, and ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022 to be played in Qatar. Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

The federal government has previously said it had “no plans” yet on whether or not to send a dignitary to Qatar. Ottawa announced a diplomatic boycott for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s poor record on human rights.

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Global Affairs Canada did not return multiple requests for comment by publication time.

The FIFA World Cup kicks off on Nov. 20.

— with files from The Associated Press

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