The World Cup tournament has always been a celebratory event, a top Qatari official said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) was asked about potential protests sprouting up in the host nation.
“Protests? Protests for what? This is a tournament for celebration. From day one we’ve always said football has a very powerful ability to bring people together,” Al Thawadi said at QEF.
As its first major football tournament in the Middle East, the FIFA World Cup offers a unique opportunity for people with different backgrounds to engage “in our common passion, which is football celebrated, might be celebrating different teams, but if
you’ve ever been to a World Cup, it’s always a celebratory event,” he expressed.
Al-Thawadi also said “we ask people to respect our culture. I don’t think that’s much to ask and that’s as simple as that.
Speaking at the event just moment after, FIFA President Gianni Infantino quelled concerns over the potential detaining of fans for doing what was described as acceptable in western society.
“This will not happen, of course,” he told moderator Francine Lacqua, a Bloomber Television anchor.
“People will get arrested if they destroy something, if they start fighting in the streets, and I expect this to happen in World Cups normally…everyone will be welcomed,” said Infantino.
The question comes amid increasing reports from western media outlets regarding the alleged arrest of people who have sexual relations outside of marriage in the Gulf state.
The sensationalist reports point to laws that have long existed in the Gulf state, framing them as new information for fans.
“We are training all the officials, we are working hand-in-hand with the government and police authorities, everyone will be welcomed. If Qatar didn’t want to welcome everyone it would not have organised the World Cup,” added Infantino.
‘Long been committed to reform’
Meanwhile, Al Thawadi said his country has long been committed to implementing labour reforms even before before winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup back in 2010, a top official said.
The SC official said while this was the case, efforts were accelerated by the major tournament.
The World Cup “acted as a vehicle” in the country’s influx of changes, including infrastructure, the official said.
“Labour reforms is where legacies or anything delivered before the tournament, it is something that we stepped up to. We’ve engaged with our critics, today some of our most ardent critics are our most ardent supporters and that needs to be recognised,” said Al Thawadi.
Addressing the frustration with the incessant criticism over human rights concerns in the country, Al Thawadi: “The fatigue is from the fact that, I think, of misrepresenting facts or not accurately addressing what is on the ground or in some places, you know, just plain simple, misstated facts.”
The football secretary general reiterated the country’s “unwavering” commitment towards achieving progress in its human rights network.
Echoing the same statement, FIFA president, Infantino told the QEF audience that Qatar’s “progress would have been done anyway” and the World Cup served as an opportunity for change.
Infantino, who took the stage after Al Thawadi, also listed the Gulf state’s historic reforms, including the dismantling of the controversial Kafala system and the region’s first minimum wage law.
“It took us in Europe hundreds of years to arrive where we are now…in this part of the world, in Qatar, it has been done in a few years so it’s clear that at the beginning we need some time to assess it,” said Infantino, noting that he continues to monitor the implementation of the local labour laws.
Dismantled in 2020, the system had stopped workers from freely changing jobs. However, some employers have continued fail to abide by the law, posing challenges for employees navigating the process.
According to a UN International Labour Organization (ILO) report, some workers also face retaliation from their employers when changing their jobs.
In 2021, the region’s first non-discriminatory minimum-wage law came into force, which established a monthly minimum wage of QAR 1,000. The law also includes the basic living allowances for select workers.
Employers who fail to comply with the law will face a one-year jail sentence and a QAR 10,000 fine.
Highlighting Qatar’s “benchmark” status in the region for injecting progressive reforms, Al Thawadi spoke about the Supreme Committee (SC) and its reimbursement of recruitment fees initiative.
Al Thawadi said businesses within the community have voluntarily and “willingly” joined the scheme and “made a commitment of about $28 million, of which $22 million dollars have already been repaid to workers,” through this initiative.
On a global scale, Apple Inc. has repaid $32.3 million in recruitment fees to 36,599 employees by suppliers, since 2008. Emboldening the term progressive, Al Thawadi noted these reforms will be a continuous effort even after the World Cup.
“This is not initiative where the spotlight is on us and once it goes we’re gonna revert back. This is something that we’re committed to, we’ve been committed to before and we’re going to continue doing this,” he asserted.
With at least 1.5 million fans expected to flock to the Gulf state for the major sporting event, the World Cup is expected to have a positive impact on the gas-rich nation’s economy.
“I mean the country will double in size, the corniche will be a fan festival with fans all over the world. Of course,the tourism sector in Qatar and the whole reason as well,” noted Infantino.
Al Thawadi revealed that about 1.2 million tickets have been purchased for the World Cup, with 40 million applications submitted to attend the tournaments.
Given that Qatar is a geographically small country, especially in comparison to previous World Cup hosts, reports claimed there could be an insufficient number of accommodations for spectators.
Both Al Thawadi and Infantino assured QEF that this is not the case.
“Accommodation is not a worry — everything is being done to cover accommodation here and in the neighbouring countries because this is a whole GCC and regional event,” said Infantino.
Responding to the question of whether this edition of the tournament could open up possibilities for it to be hosted at even smaller countries, the FIFA president said:”Football has to be global and we have to stage it everywhere in every country around the world, not just among a few countries”.