The football association has risked fueling tensions with FIFA and the Qataris by finally demanding a compensation fund for the families of migrant workers injured or killed while building stadiums for the upcoming World Cup.
Qatar has faced strong criticism from human rights groups but, along with FIFA, the governing body of world football, has so far resisted the idea of paying for a fund – urging the companies involved instead to support the affected employees would be compensated.
The FA has now gone much further with its public stance, also joining forces with several other European countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales – in a high-profile “OneLove” campaign against all forms of discrimination at the tournament.
Captains from those countries – including England’s Harry Kane – will wear an anti-discrimination, multicolored armband during the tournament, which starts on November 20.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called on FIFA to set aside $440 million – the equivalent of what they claim is the total prize money at the World Cup – to compensate the families of thousands of workers who have died or been victims of human rights violations and unacceptable conditions in the Gulf state.
Mark Bullingham, the CEO of the FA, said: “We absolutely agree with the concept of a compensation fund. It’s hard to say what level that is.”
He added: “Once again we are urging FIFA to update the compensation fund, which has consistently been cited as a safety net where workers and their families have been unable to obtain compensation from construction companies.”
Bullingham, who has become one of the most outspoken voices pushing for change, also boldly risked aggravating the wider Middle East region by stating: “It would be an important legacy to the tournament if we looked at the potential change for the region and not just the country. Wouldn’t it be great if the changes that have been made in Qatar extend to the region as well?”
‘The eyes of the world remain on the entire region’
The FA, together with UEFA, the European Football Association, have pledged to visit Qatar next year to ensure that the agreed reforms are enforced.
“Now we understand that the changes being made are permanent and there is a lot of support for them on the ground,” said Bullingham. “I think the other pertinent point is that they definitely provide for other sports and the eyes of the world will continue to be on the whole region, so we expect the changes to be implemented.”
The FA has been under pressure for some time to issue a statement about the controversial decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar over concerns over human rights abuses and discrimination, particularly against the LGBTQ+ community with homosexuality illegally in the state. Bullingham said many fans will not travel to Qatar now.
Qatar’s government has admitted that it is working on its labor system, but denied a 2021 Amnesty report that thousands of migrant workers are still being exploited. Bullingham said the FA also lobbied FIFA for an update to new labor protection laws and the introduction of a center to provide advice and assistance to migrant workers who make up the bulk of the population.
“The UEFA working group was quite unanimous on the measures we have taken and some of them have clearly been behind the scenes, others are now public,” said Bullingham.
“I think it’s great that we have a pretty strong unified support, especially Western Europe, and I think I’ll be very surprised if I don’t see other countries join us and show solidarity in that way.”