Football: Qatar 'singled out' for World Cup flak, says confident 2022 committee boss

AFP - Qatar has been unfairly "singled out" for criticism, the 2022 World Cup committee chief said on Monday, adding that no labourer has died during more than 14 million man-hours of work on tournament venues.

In a robust defence of Qatar's position, Hassan Al-Thawadi also said the Gulf state does not expect to lose the World Cup, regardless of an ongoing investigation into the 2022 bidding process in Switzerland, amid allegations of corruption.

Thawadi, secretary-general of the 2022 Supreme Committee, the body overseeing tournament preparations, said there was no evidence of wrongdoing against Qatar and that the country would cooperate with investigators in Switzerland and the US "should there be any request".

"We always expected criticism," Thawadi said in an interview posted on the Supreme Committee's website.

"There isn't a single major sporting event in the world that doesn't go through that journey, but I think ours has been particularly intense.

"We became the victim of a campaign that singled out Qatar and our successful bid without any shred of evidence." Asked if he was worried that Qatar could lose the 2022 tournament, a defiant Thawadi replied: "Absolutely not."

So far, Qatar has not been contacted by investigators in Switzerland or the US, confirmed Thawadi.

Last week, US attorney-general Loretta Lynch said she hoped Doha would cooperate with any investigation, if necessary.

Late last month, a spokesman for the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) - which is looking into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups - told AFP that no Qatari officials had been questioned "so far".

At the same time however, the OAG added it would "particularly welcome" evidence from disgraced Qatari football powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam, a former Fifa vice-president and Asian Football Confederation president.

The 66-year-old, twice banned for life from FIFA, was seen as a central figure in helping secure Qatar's right to host the 2022 World Cup.

But asked if he was concerned that evidence could surface to compromise Qatar, Thawadi added: "I think if you examine it closely you can see these investigations focus on individuals, not a young, hard-working bid committee from Qatar."

As well as corruption, critics have consistently rounded on Qatar for its record on migrant workers' rights.

This summer it was claimed in the US media that 1,200 labourers had died on World Cup construction sites, a charge fiercely denied by Doha.

"That is simply not true," said Thawadi.

"In more than 14 million man hours worked, the Supreme Committee has not experienced one fatality on site." Work has begun on six of a possible eight venues that will be used in 2022.

Rights groups have attacked Qatar over the pace and substance of labour reform.

Amnesty said this month that Doha had done "almost nothing" in the five years since being awarded the World Cup to improve treatment of the country's almost two million foreign workers, many working on tournament projects.

Earlier this year, Qatar announced changes to the much-criticised "kafala" system, which limits the rights of movement for workers and has been likened by critics to modern-day slavery.

Thawadi said these reforms showed Doha's "determination" to use the World Cup as a "catalyst" for change.