FIFA President Gianni Infantino said migrant workers gain pride from hard work when he was questioned on Monday about workers suffering in Qatar while building World Cup infrastructure.
Despite the abuses, Infantino claimed workers would feel proud at being given the chance to construct stadiums for this year’s tournament in the Gulf nation, earning a living rather than being given charity.
The comments came after Infantino was asked at the global conference of the Milken Institute in Los Angeles if FIFA would use its profits to make “any sort of commitment” to help families of workers who died in Qatar.
Infantino did not directly address that point when responding to MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle on stage, instead, pointing to the introduction of a minimum wage and enhanced labour rights.
“Let’s not forget one thing … when we speak about this topic, which is work, even hard work, tough work,” Infantino said. “America is a country of immigration. My parents emigrated as well from Italy to Switzerland. Not so far, but still.
“When you give work to somebody, even in hard conditions, you give him dignity and pride. It’s not charity. You don’t make charity. You don’t give something to somebody and say, ‘Stay where you are. I give you something and I feel good.’”
Ruhle interjected: “But to build the stadium where the World Cup is to be played.”
Infantino responded: “Exactly. It’s also a matter of pride and to have been able to change the conditions for these 1.5 million people, this is something that makes us as well proud.”
Infantino did not directly dispute the claim put to him by Ruhle — denied by Qatar after being reported by The Guardian — that 6,500 workers have died building infrastructure to stage the Middle East’s first World Cup in November. Infantino said only three people have died on the construction sites of the stadiums, which are funded by Qatar’s vast oil and natural gas wealth.
“Now 6,000 might have died in other works and so on,” Infantino said, “and of course, FIFA is not the police of the world or responsible for everything that happens around the world. But thanks to FIFA, thanks to football we have been able to address the status of all the 1.5 million workers, working in Qatar.”
Construction workers, mostly men from southern Asia nations, live with multiple people in the same bedrooms in Qatar, while their families remain in their home countries.
Infantino acknowledged that a form of “modern slavery system” existed before Qatar started to dismantle its long-criticized “kafala” employment system in 2018. Migrant workers should now be able to change jobs before the end of their contracts without obtaining the permission of their current employers.
The World Cup has contributed to “positive social change,” according to Infantino, who accepted: “These controversies have certainly overshadowed the preparation.”
Infantino sparked criticism in January over comments about migrants when he linked plans to double the frequency of World Cups to every two years to give more hope to Africans who risk their lives crossing the sea to Europe.