Large sporting events such as the World Cup have enormous potential to benefit widely the societies in which they take place and this has increasingly become a consideration for host countries, as the positive experience of the 2012 London Olympics has shown. The Brazilian Government’s projections are that the 2014 World Cup will increase the country’s GDP by almost 10 billion Euro and that, as well as investments in the match stadiums, the World Cup has led to an acceleration of investment in roads, airports and public transportation.
While staging international sporting events may provide enormous benefits, it is important that host countries respect human rights and ensure that fundamental freedoms are upheld in preparing for and hosting the events.
Staging large sporting events also brings with it worldwide scrutiny. Audiences will tune in from around the world in their millions and the interest generated will go beyond just the games. All aspects of the country will be scrutinised including the host nation’s human rights record.
In this regard, I am currently very concerned about the reports of abuse of workers’ rights in Qatar, a country with the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world. Nearly 88 per cent of the total population are foreign workers, employed largely in construction, services and domestic work. The presence of large numbers of migrant workers in the Gulf area, especially in construction, is of course a long-standing phenomenon and does not relate solely to the World Cup.
In November 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, urged the Qatari authorities to ensure that its labour laws are reformed to ensure that they adhere to international standards. I fully support Mr. Crépeau’s findings and call on the Qatari Government to continue to cooperate with his office and the UN International Labour Organisation and to implement their recommendations in order to improve the situation of migrant workers and their families in the country.
I believe it is critical that Qatar proves it is making real efforts to improve the protection of the rights of all workers, including construction workers, ahead of the FIFA World Cup scheduled for 2022. In this regard, I welcome FIFA’s promises to demand high standards in the area of workers’ rights, as well as FIFA’s request that the Qatari authorities provide a report detailing improvements that have been made in terms of labour standards since the visit of its President, Mr. Sepp Blatter, to the Emirate in November 2013.
I also would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the message delivered by Ireland during Qatar’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council on May 7 2014, in which we urged the Qatari authorities to undertake a thorough review of the regulatory regime for migrant workers in order to ensure that it adheres to international human rights and labour standards.
I led a trade mission to Qatar at the beginning of June and took the opportunity to privately raise with Qatari Government Ministers concerns regarding Human Rights particularly in relation to reports of violations of the rights of migrant workers and the denial of the right to the freedom of movement. While the conversations were confidential, Qatari Ministers confirmed that they were aware of the issues related to the Kafala system of sponsorship and noted that they are working on legislation which would, among other things, address the “exit visa” system. The Kafala system requires all unskilled labourers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. It has been criticised as many employers take away passports and abuse their workers with little risk of legal repercussions.
The human rights situation in the Russian Federation came under the spotlight in the lead-up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February 2014. The rights of migrant workers, as well as LGBTI rights and freedom of the press, were a particular focus of attention, and this is to be welcomed.
The EU was aware of reports that migrant workers were employed during preparations for the Games and I can confirm that the rights of such workers and ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation were discussed at the EU’s structured human rights consultations with Russia which took place on 28 November 2013.
The Deputy will be aware that the decisions to award games to countries are not made by national governments but by Sports governing bodies – FIFA as the governing association of soccer in the case of the World Cup and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the case of the Olympic games.
It has recently been reported that in apparent response to recent controversy over the rights of workers in Qatar, senior officials at FIFA, are considering a human rights criterion for choosing future host countries. I would very much welcome this in the awarding of such events.