World Cup head ‘confident’ Qatar will keep event

The head of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizing committee says

he’s ”comfortable and confident” the tournament won’t be taken

from his country.

Hassan al-Thawadi defended Qatar’s record on protecting migrant

workers and pledged that labor rights were improving. There have

been claims that dozens have died in the desert heat during

construction work linked to the World Cup.

”It will always be our top priority,” al-Thawadi said. ”If

the World Cup is doing anything, it is accelerating a number of

these initiatives.”

Al-Thawadi met with media in a Zurich hotel near where FIFA’s

executive committee was discussing the labor issue at a two-day

meeting that opened on Thursday. Trade union activists protested at

the soccer body’s gates.

The FIFA board chaired by President Sepp Blatter will debate on

Friday if the 2022 tournament should be switched from the scheduled

June-July dates because of the high Qatari temperatures.

Al-Thawadi said he had ”no expectations” about a FIFA

decision, and Qatar is comfortable with any timetable for FIFA to

choose the best months to play.

After weeks of speculation fueled by Blatter on how to switch

the World Cup from summer, the labor issue has also grown in

significance after a British newspaper published its investigation

from Qatar and international labor activists sought to pressure

FIFA to act.

”We are always comfortable and confident that the World Cup

will not move from Qatar,” said al-Thawadi, secretary general of

the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee.

The Qatari government said Wednesday it commissioned an

independent review of conditions for more than one million migrant

workers. Mostly from South Asia, the workers have complained of low

pay and being required to hand over their passports to

employers.

”We are looking at provisions for our contractors and we are in

dialogue with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to look

at not only the contracts but the mechanisms to enforce them,”

al-Thawadi said. ”The government was looking into this before the

World Cup came on board.”

Scrutiny of Qatar increased this week when France Football

magazine, FIFA’s commercial partner in the annual Ballon d’Or

player awards, made more claims about the bid’s spending and

tactics in 2009-10 under the headline ”Qatarclysme.”

The magazine revealed that FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia

plans to visit all nine bidders in the 2018-2022 hosting contests

to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Russia won the 2018

hosting rights.

”As far as I’m aware, no, so far he has not been in touch,”

al-Thawadi said of Garcia’s probe, adding he was ”absolutely not”

concerned where it could lead.

”Provided that the review and the look into this matter is done

on a fair, equitable basis, with the principles of rule of law

being adhered to, then there’s no concern,” he said.

Al-Thawadi dismissed speculation about how Qatar won the contest

– defeating the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea –

as conspiracy theories.

”I think what we’re going to see is a picture of the grassy

knoll in the JFK assassination and instead of it being smoke

they’re going to say it’s the Qatari headdress and it’s us,”

al-Thawadi said. ”It proves the need for the Middle East to host a

World Cup. It proves the need for us to actually be able to break

down stereotypes.”

Stressing Qatar’s plan to link a summer World Cup with

humanitarian projects, al-Thawadi said air-cooling technology being

developed for stadiums and team training sites could be used in

greenhouses to improve food production.

”We are confident of our position, we are confident of what we

have done, we’re confident of our promises, we’re confident of our

ability to deliver promises,” he said.