April 22, 2016 / 10:52 AM / a year ago

FIFA sets up worker welfare body for Qatar World Cup

FIFA's newly elected president Gianni Infantino poses with the Qatar Workers Cup trophy in Doha, Qatar, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

DOHA (Reuters) - The head of soccer’s world governing body FIFA urged Qatar to hasten improvements in safety and labor conditions for builders working on sites for the 2022 World Cup and declared: “we will not just sit and wait”.

Gianni Infantino, on a two-day visit to Qatar, announced plans for a special working group to monitor the situation and acknowledged there were still “many challenges”.

Amnesty International reported on abuses in Qatar’s preparations for the World Cup in a wide-ranging report three weeks ago based on the accounts of 132 workers at the sites.

It found construction workers from Nepal and India had been charged recruitment fees and housed in squalid conditions.

Infantino said Qatar, the tournament’s first Arab host, supported the monitoring initiative.

”I acknowledge very much the efforts which are being done. I want to see these efforts now being put in practice,“ Infantino, elected as president of the scandal-plagued federation in February, told reporters. ”Of course we will not just sit and wait.

“FIFA will step up its efforts in overseeing....in order to ensure the protection of the workers’ rights in the construction of the FIFA World Cup sites is fulfilled”

AMNESTY ACCUSATIONS

The head of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, Hassan al-Thawadi, has said Doha is working to reduce abuses he described as occurring on construction sites all over the world.

Infantino faces pressure from human rights groups to press for reform of labor laws in Qatar including its “kafala” sponsorship system, whereby employers effectively control a worker’s freedom to leave the country.

Infantino said he had told Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani measures taken by Qatari authorities to ensure fair working conditions were going in the right direction.

“I, of course, discussed with the prime minister this morning about this topic, about the Kafala (sponsorship) legislation, about how it will be, or how it is going to change with regard to the workers,” he said.

Switzerland’s attorney-general has launched a investigation into FIFA’s decision to award the event to Qatar, as well as the 2018 World Cup to Russia, at a vote in December 2010 in Zurich.

But Infantino said there was no question of the tournament being held elsewhere.

In an earlier statement issued by FIFA, Infantino said the hosting of the World Cup was an opportunity to set a benchmark for fair conditions for all workers in Qatar.

Reporting by Reuters Television, Writing by Sylvia Westall in Dubai and Brian Homewood in Zurich; editing by Ralph Boulton

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