Players union in talks with Qatar over Belounis

A delegation from FIFPro, the world footballers’ union, is on its way to Qatar urgent talks with the country’s football authorities and 2022 World Cup organisers about the plight of Zahir Belounis, the French-Algerian stranded in Qatar over a contractual dispute.

Over the four-day visit FIFPro hopes to secure the release of Belounis who is being prevented from leaving the Gulf nation under the kafala work visa system and warns other players about the perils of the system.

“FIFPro assumes under the present arrangement that foreign players in Qatar can never feel certain their basic rights will be upheld and respected if a dispute, contractual or otherwise, arises with a club,” the union said in a statement.

A delegation led by FIFPro board member Mads Øland, together with representatives of the International Trade Union Confederation, will also look at the situation regarding migrant workers,

“We will not overlook the tragedy which is currently unfolding in Qatar,” the statement continued.

“FIFPro is seriously concerned by allegations of human rights violations in the construction of World Cup stadia and related infrastructure.”

FIFPro said the visit was designed to lay the foundation on the following proposals:

• Respect for the human rights of footballers including the abolition of the kafala sponsorship system in its application to players;
• The establishment of FIFA standards within the Qatari professional league including minimum contract requirements, dispute resolution (clearly without limiting the application of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber);
• In time, the establishment of an independent players’ association in Qatar.

FIFPro restated its commitment “to resolve the deplorable situation” facing Belounis who has been unable to leave the country for two years. The kafala system requires a player employed by a club to obtain an exit permit from his employer in order to be able to leave Qatar, even after the employment relationship has ended.

“His is a story we unfortunately know only too well. To prevent future misery for professional footballers, FIFPro will target the application of the kafala sytem with Qatari authorities and football’s world governing body FIFA,” the union said.

FIFPro officials plan to meet with Belounis and will call for football authorities “to hear his cry for help”.

Brendan Schwab, FIFPro Asia chairman said: “FIFPro recognises what all parties are doing to try and help Zahir Belounis. Some are visible, others continue to work behind the scenes, but FIFPro appreciates all efforts in this difficult yet important matter.”

It’s good to see a sense of urgency over the Belounis sitiuation. It’s just a shame that it has taken the relevant bodies two years to take his predicament seriously.