The CEO of Qatar’s World Cup is facing backlash for his response to news of a stadium worker’s death earlier this week.
FIFA reported that a worker had died Wednesday, thougb officials didn’t reveal the person’s name or details about the incident. But according to The Athletic, the male migrant worker, who was Filipino, died while trying to repair a light fixture at the training base for the Saudi Arabian team. Qatar is now investigating the incident, Agence France Presse reported.
A human rights group is now accusing Qatar World Cup CEO Nasser Al Khater of insensitively downplaying the worker’s death in responding to a reporter’s question about the incident.
“Death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep,” Al Khater told Reuters. “Of course, a worker died, our condolences go to his family.”
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, blasted Al Khater and FIFA in a message posted Thursday on its website.
“The FIFA and Qatari authorities’ responses exemplify their entities’ longstanding disregard for migrant workers’ lives, repeated obfuscation of key facts and the failure to take responsibility for migrant workers’ safety,” the group said.
“This shameful government attitude towards migrant worker deaths is reflected in the authorities’ failure to investigate the thousands of migrant worker deaths since 2010,” Human Rights Watch added.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Al Khater’s comments also drew condemnation on social media.
“Even if death is natural, saying it that way sounds arrogant and insensitive to the family and other migrants and some of us who see this comment,” one Twitter user wrote. “He should apologize or retract his statement.”
Another Twitter user added that Al Khater gave an “absolute shocking response, showing how much he cares for human life.”
Qatar has faced scrutiny for the deaths of numerous migrant workers involved in building stadiums and other infrastructure since the country was awarded the World Cup in 2010. A top Qatari official involved in the tournament recently said that between 400 and 500 people have died in the preparations for the event.
By comparison, eight people died while preparing for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and 17 died during the 2018 tournament in Russia, according to Human Rights Watch.
Qatar has relied on an army of foreign workers, mostly from South Asia and Africa, to erect stadiums, hotels, mass transit and other facilities in preparation for the tournament. Thousands toiled for years in temperatures up to 120 degrees, crammed into crowded, squalid residential camps near the venues they were building.
“We and others have been calling on the Qatari authorities to conduct such investigations on workers’ deaths for years to no avail,” Ella Knight, a researcher on migrants’ labour rights for Amnesty International told BBC. “Instead, they continue to simply write off vast numbers of deaths as being due to ‘natural causes’ despite the clear health risks associated with working in extreme temperatures,” she said
The Associated Press contributed to this report.