Hassan al-Thawadi: what did Qatar 2022 World Cup chief say about migrant worker deaths and One Love armband?

Hassan al-Thawadi said in the interview with Piers Morgan that: “One death is a death too many. Plain and simple.”
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A top Qatari official involved in the country’s World Cup organisation has put the number of worker deaths for the tournament “between 400 and 500” for the first time, a drastically higher number than any other previously offered by Doha.

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It also threatened to reinvigorate criticism by human rights groups over the cost of hosting the Middle East’s first World Cup for the migrant labourers who built the more than 200 billion dollars’ (£1.7 billion) worth of stadiums, metro lines and new infrastructure needed for the tournament.

During the interview, portions of which Morgan posted online, the journalist asks al-Thawadi: “What is the honest, realistic total do you think of migrant workers who died from… as a result of work they’re doing for the World Cup in totality?”

He replies: “The estimate is around 400, between 400 and 500… I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s been discussed.” But that figure has not previously been discussed publicly. Reports from the Supreme Committee dating from 2014 to the end of 2021 only include the number of deaths of workers involved in building and refurbishing the stadiums now hosting the World Cup.

What was said in the interview?

Reports from the Supreme Committee dating from 2014 to the end of 2021 only include the number of deaths of workers involved in building and refurbishing the stadiums now hosting the World Cup.

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Those figures put the total number of deaths at 40, and include 37 from what the Qataris describe as non-work incidents such as heart attacks and three from workplace incidents. One report also separately lists a worker death from coronavirus amid the pandemic.

In a later statement, the Supreme Committee said Mr al-Thawadi was referring to “national statistics covering the period of 2014-20 for all work-related fatalities (414) nationwide in Qatar, covering all sectors and nationalities”.

Since Fifa awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010, the country has taken some steps to overhaul the country’s employment practices, including eliminating its so-called kafala system, which tied workers to their employers, who had a say over whether they could leave their jobs or even the country.

Qatar has also adopted a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals (£225) for workers and required food and housing allowances for employees not receiving those benefits directly from their employers. It also has updated its worker safety rules to prevent deaths. “One death is a death too many. Plain and simple,” Mr al-Thawadi added in the interview.

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When asked in the TalkTV interview by Morgan about improvements that had been made and if at that start that meant that standards weren’t good enough, al-Thawadi said: “I think overall the need for labour reform in itself dictates that improvements had to happen.

“Just so we are clear this was something that was recognised before we bid. The improvements that have happened isn’t because of the World Cup. These are improvements we knew we had to do because of our own values, improvements that had to happen whether it is in terms of health and safety standards, whether it’s in terms of improving the accommodation standards, whether it’s in terms of dismantling the Kafala system.

“Now what the World Cup did, it served as a vehicle, an accelerant, a catalyst, because of the spotlight that it was recognised early on was going to be shed it caused a lot of the initiatives not only in terms of improvement in the legislation, but in the enforcement of it as well. And that’s where today we got to a position where our most ardent of critics consider us to be a benchmark in the region.”

What’s been the reaction to his comments?

Activists have called on Doha to do more, particularly when it comes to ensuring workers receive their salaries on time and are protected from abusive employers. The Qatari World Cup chief’s comments also renew questions on the veracity of both government and private business reporting on worker injuries and deaths across the Gulf Arab states, whose skyscrapers have been built by labourers from South Asia nations like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

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Mustafa Qadri, the executive director of Equidem Research, a labour consultancy that has published reports on the toll of the construction on migrant workers, said he was surprised by Mr al-Thawadi’s remark. “For him now to come and say there is hundreds, it’s shocking,” he told the Associated Press. “They have no idea what’s going on.”

What did Hassan al-Thawadi say about the One Love armband?

He has previously made comments saying he has an “issue” with teams wearing the armband - an anti-discrimination symbol. He said: “If the teams decided to do it throughout the entire season, that is one thing,” he said, when asked if he felt nervous about armbands. “But if you’re coming to make a point, or a statement in Qatar, that is something I have an issue with. And it goes back to the simple fact that this is a part of the world that has its own set of values.

“This is not Qatar I’m talking about, it’s the Arab world,” he added. “For the teams to come and preach or make statements, that’s fine. But what you’re essentially saying is you’re protesting an Islamic country hosting an event. Where does that end? Does that mean no Islamic country can never be able to participate in anything?”

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