BBC reporters detained and intimidated, while pressure group demands action from FIFA over plight of migrant work force.
Qatar’s staging of the 2022 World Cup finals has come under renewed attack from two separate quarters.
Firstly the BBC complained that a film crew had been detained and subject to intimidatory treatment while in the country at the invitation of a PR firm acting for the Qatari government.
Then then the pressure group NewFIFANow launched a demand for world federation sponsors to act over working conditions for migrant construction workers.
The BBC issue may be viewed with more concern by FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter because of the corporation’s respected and worldwide outreach.
The broadcaster had reported that a journalistic film crew, invited formally by Qatar to view upgraded new accommodation for migrant workers, were detained by security officers, handcuffed, questioned ‘aggressively’ and imprisoned overnight before being released.
This follows the recent similar detention of German TV journalists from the ARD channel who were also investigating work and accommodation provision for migrant workers.
The Qatar government communications office insisted that the journalists had brought trouble on themselves because they ”decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour [and] trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar.”
But the statement made no attempt to justify or excuse the heavy-handed and intimidatory treatment of the journalists or explain information given to the BBC team that they had been targeted for two days before their detention, Nor did it comment upon its continued refusal to return confiscated equipment.
The BBC rejected all the Qatar allegations, saying: “We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism.
“The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment.”
FIFA said it was “seeking clarity” about the incident from Qatari because “any instance relating to an apparent restriction of press freedom is of concern to FIFA and will be looked into with the seriousness it deserves.”
Also in London international workers’ unions joined forces with other pressure groups to demand that FIFA sponsors “accept their corporate responsibility and challenge human rights abuses at World Cup infrastructure construction sites in Qatar.”
The initiative, co-ordinated by sports wear company SKINS, was announced as a press conference at which film of living conditions for migrant workers employed in Qatar under the kafala system was presented and FIFA’s rejection of any responsibility was condemned.
SKINS chairman Jaimie Fuller said he had written to eight FIFA sponsors accusing them individually of effectively “‘contravening their own values and principles” by contributing significant sums of money to FIFA and thereby providing “implicit support” for working practices and conditions in Qatar.
Fuller travelled recently to Qatar and was smuggled into several workers’ labour camps to see evidence first hand.
The press conference was supported by International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow and Stephen Russell of the UK Trade Union Congress-backed group Playfair Qatar.
Bi-partisan support was confirmed by the attendance of Conservative UK MP Damian Collins.
Burrow said: “Qatar is a slave state. The discrimination, the racism, the denial of rights for 1.4 million migrant workers adds up to apartheid and a model of employment that is simply slavery.
“There is a conspiracy of silence by governments and major sporting and cultural institutions that allow it to continue. The world must not be duped by Qatar’s empty promises of reform.”