World Cup: ‘Death is a natural part of life’ says Qatar 2022 official following Filipino worker’s death

Activists at a protest calling for Fifa to compensate migrant workers for alleged human rights abuses in Qatar. PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA - World Cup host Qatar is investigating the death of a migrant worker, an official said on Thursday, after reports he died at a training base during the ongoing football tournament.

The death of a Filipino in his 40s was first reported on Wednesday by The Athletic sports website.

It said the man contracted to fix lights in a car park at the Sealine Resort, the training site of the Saudi national team, died after he “slipped off a ramp while walking alongside the vehicle and fell headfirst against concrete”.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, it said the accident occurred during the World Cup, but did not specify when.

The report said he had not been wearing a harness.

“The incident is being investigated by the Qatari authorities,” a Qatari government official said on condition of anonymity.

“If the investigation concludes that safety protocols were not followed, the company will be subject to legal action and severe financial penalties.

“The rate of work-related accidents has consistently declined in Qatar since strict health and safety standards were introduced and enforcement has been stepped up.”

The Philippines’ foreign ministry told AFP that its embassy in Doha was looking into the case, without providing additional details.

World football’s governing body Fifa said it was “deeply saddened by this tragedy”.

“As soon as Fifa was made aware of the accident, we contacted the local authorities to request more details,” it said in a statement.

Qatar’s World Cup organisers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said the site of the accident was not under its jurisdiction.

The man who died – a contractor – was also “not under the remit” of the committee, it said in a statement.

Migrant workers make up more than 2.5 million of Qatar’s 2.9 million population and labour conditions have been strongly criticised – particularly in the lead-up to the World Cup.

Last month, Qatari authorities said 414 migrant workers died in labour accidents in the country between 2014 and 2020.

They also said the number of deaths was proportionate to the size of the migrant workforce, and included many non-manual workers, adding that every life lost was a tragedy. The SC said that three work-related deaths and 37 non-work related deaths have occurred on World Cup-related projects.

Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of the 2022 World Cup in Doha, confirmed that a worker died and offered condolences to his family.

However, he bristled when questioned by journalists about The Athletic report.

“Death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep,” he said, voicing disappointment at journalists’ questions.

“We’re in the middle of a World Cup. And we have a successful World Cup. And this is something you want to talk about right now?“

Concern over Qatar’s migrant workers spilt over into Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s home town on Wednesday, with campaigners demanding compensation for migrant workers who died or were exploited while building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.

Global citizen activism group Avaaz drove billboards through Brig in southern Switzerland, calling for immediate compensation for “victims of this World Cup”.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and 23 other groups wrote to Infantino in May urging him to establish a remediation programme for “abuses” suffered by workers, who have complained of conditions that amount to forced labour, lost and unpaid wages, and long hours without days off.

Nearly 725,000 people have signed an Avaaz petition citing the “devastation that building the World Cup in Qatar has had on hundreds of thousands of migrants” and calling on Infantino to establish a “compensation fund for the victims for US$440 million (S$596 million)”.

Avaaz drove three mobile billboards through Brig reading: “Infantino: Your family were migrants. Thousands like them were victims of this World Cup. Compensate them now.”

Fifa’s Deputy Secretary General Alasdair Bell told the Council of Europe in October it was “important to try to see that anyone who suffered injury as consequence of working in the World Cup... is somehow redressed”.

The World Cup began on Nov 20 and ends on Dec 18. AFP, REUTERS

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