Nasser Al Khater told Sky News in an interview that he believes “this is a sporting tournament that people want to come [to] and enjoy. Turning it into a platform of political statements I don’t think is right for the sport.”
On November 19, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East will kick off, putting an end to a 12-year journey that began in 2010, when Qatar won the bid to host the event.
However, its been a rocky road for the host nation.
Nasser Al Khater has been at the receiving end of criticism since he climbed to the position of chief executive of the supreme committee in charge of Qatar’s planning.
The World Cup Qatar 2022 CEO gave an exclusive interview to Sky News, outlining his country’s stances on widely-discussed issues.
Compensation for migrant workers
“A lot of people that speak about this issue on workers’ welfare… are not experts in the industry. And they’re not experts in what they’re speaking about,” Al Khater told Sky News.
During the World Cup build-up, a number of European nations, including England and Denmark, have raised issues over the plight of migrant workers in the host country, and alleged shortcomings in Qatar’s compensation money.
The #PayUpFIFA campaign is a collective appeal by human rights groups for FIFA to match the tournament’s $440 million in prize money with compensation for migrant workers.
FIFA stated at the time that it was evaluating the campaign, and that as of December 2021, workers had received compensation payments totalling $22.6 million, with an additional $5.7 million pledged by contractors.
When queried by journalists, the Belgian, Danish, Dutch, English, and Norwegian Football Associations voiced support for the idea of compensation. Only the German and French Football Associations, however, have issued a formal, public statement urging FIFA to create such a remediation programme.
“And I feel that they feel obliged, that they need to speak. I think they need to really read and educate themselves a little bit more about what’s happening on the ground in Qatar,” added Al Khater.
Amnesty International has stated that four out of the tournament’s fourteen sponsors —AB InBev/Budweiser, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s—had expressed support for ensuring that workers have access to remedies.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice, stated that ten other sponsors — Visa, Hyundai-Kia, Wanda Group, Qatar Energy, Qatar Airways, Vivo, Hisense, Mengniu, Crypto, and Byju’s — had not responded to written requests to examine tournament-related violations.
According to Cockburn, these companies are “not meeting their corporate responsibilities.”
“So when people come out and say, ‘Yes, we agree that there needs to be some sort of compensation fund’,” Al Khater stated, “they’re just reading off a piece of paper.”
A YouGov poll conducted recently and commissioned by Amnesty showed that among more than 17,000 fans in 15 nations, including 10 European nations, 73% of respondents would accept FIFA’s plan to compensate migrant workers, while 10% were against it.
“So let’s leave that to the experts… and let us focus on football. Let the football administrators focus on their teams. And let’s just leave it at that.”
Migrant workers issues and reforms
Over the last decade, Qatar has seen a number of historic labour reforms. In 2021, the country introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage law, triggering praise worldwide.
Doha also launched a new platform for workers’ complaints in May 2021 to enable employees to submit public violations of the labour law.
Qatar’s Wage Protection System, which requires companies to transmit all payments through Qatari banks within seven days of their due date, is now said to cover over 96% of eligible workers in Qatar.
In recent months, there has been a slew of new complaints about working hours, compensation, and a variety of other issues. Some workers who spoke to Doha News say they have received no response despite filing complaints.
In a separate statement sent to Doha News last month, a Qatari government official said the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund has disbursed almost QAR 600m to over 36,000 workers in Qatar since its emancipation in 2018 and up until the end of 2021.
The fund was established in 2018 to pay out compensation granted by Labour Dispute Settlement Committees when a firm goes bankrupt and is unable to pay its employees. This comes as international NGOs and human rights organisations demand that Qatar and FIFA compensate the workers who were on World Cup projects.
Companies in Qatar are legally required to compensate the families of all workers who die in a work-related incident.
Immediately after a work-related death occurs, the company is required to report the incident through a dedicated electronic system. An investigation is then carried out by the authorities to identify the cause of death and determine whether adequate health and safety measures were in place.
If a violation occurred, legal action is taken against the company. Once the cause of death is identified as work-related, a final report is submitted to the legal authorities to determine the amount of compensation to be paid by the company to the family.
This decision is immediately enforceable under Qatari law.
Additional reform includes two key laws to eliminate barriers on migrant workers leaving the country and changing jobs without permission from their employers.
The new laws have the potential to strike at the core of the Kafala system, which links migrant workers to their employers, if effectively implemented. However, there are numerous cases of employers not abiding by the reforms.
Employees told Amnesty International that changing employment still comes with major obstacles and opposition from dissatisfied bosses.
Qatar’s Minister of Labour Ali Al Marri recently stated that the legislative updates and improvements in the labour sector in recent years have been “continuous and sustainable” and will continue after the World Cup.
‘Respecting’ Qatari culture
Al Khater also stated that fans may fly rainbow flags, but he also stated that FIFA must decide whether to allow England’s captain Harry Kane and Wales’ Gareth Bale to wear the “One Love” multicoloured armbands to call attention to discrimination.
England will wear a rainbow captain’s armband during the competition, the English FA announced in September, as part of an anti-discrimination initiative and in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
The governing body is adamant that England’s captain will carry the armband, even if doing so puts FIFA fines on the line.
Qatar will not change its anti-LGBTQ+ laws, but it has insisted that no one will face discrimination during the 29-day tournament and that gay fans can hold hands, to allay the fears of visiting fans, the official said.
However, he said “this is a sporting tournament that people want to come [to] and enjoy. Turning it into a platform of political statements I don’t think is right for the sport.”
“All we ask is for people to be respectful of the culture,” Al Khater told Sky News.
“At the end of the day, as long as you don’t do anything that harms other people, if you’re not destroying public property, as long as you’re behaving in a way that’s not harmful, then everybody’s welcome and you have nothing to worry about.”
“From what I understand, there are discussions taking place about the different political messages that are going to be,” Al Khater added.
Almost 95% of tickets have been sold
Eight new stadiums built all around Qatar will host spectators for games. Even though 95% of the tickets have been sold, lodging is still available through the organisers, according to Al Khater’s statement to Sky News.
In order to host the World Cup, Qatar had to expand the sale of alcohol outside of stadiums and in fan zones, rather than keeping it solely in hotel bars.
The first Muslim country to host a World Cup is unfamiliar with large crowds of rowdy, intoxicated fans.
“There are plans in place for people to sober up if they’ve been drinking excessively,” Al Khater said. “It’s a place to make sure that they keep themselves safe, they’re not harmful to anybody else.”
Is criticism racist?
Al Khater has expressed multiple times that he believes Qatar is being unfairly targeted.
“We’ve taken the challenge upon ourselves and we’ve risen to that challenge,” he said.
When asked by Sky News if he felt the criticism facing the country was racist, he responded saying “I’m not going to get into what the intentions of other people are, I’m not going to get into the minds and souls of other people.”
“But you know, who knows, possibly.”