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FIFA: Human rights records to get 'greater status' in future World Cup bids

updated 5:18 PM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
FIFA senior official Theo Zwanziger gave evidence to a committee of the European Parliament about the situation in Qatar.
FIFA senior official Theo Zwanziger gave evidence to a committee of the European Parliament about the situation in Qatar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FIFA: Human rights situation in Qatar 'appalling'
  • World Cup 2022 can improve the situation world governing body claims
  • Human rights to be given greater prominence in future choice of hosts
  • Qatar organizers announced 'Workers' Charter' earlier this week

(CNN) -- FIFA will give greater prominence to the human rights record of countries bidding to host future World Cups, a senior official told the European Parliament Thursday.

Theo Zwanziger, an executive committee member of football's world governing body, was giving evidence on the welfare conditions of migrant workers involved in construction projects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"The Qatar authorities realize they cannot continue with business as usual," he told the human rights panel of the parliament in Brussels.

"The country needs to think in general about the welfare of workers," he said.

FIFA has been plagued by a series of problems and controversies since Qatar was awarded the right to stage the 2022 World Cup. FIFA has been plagued by a series of problems and controversies since Qatar was awarded the right to stage the 2022 World Cup.
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"Everyone should do something to improve the appalling situation, not just FIFA," he added.

Read: Qatar organizers unveil charter to protect workers

On Tuesday, World Cup organizers in Dubai, who had been set a deadline by FIFA, unveiled an updated 'workers' charter' -- which pledged to address concerns over wages and accommodation for overseas workers and pledged regular inspections of construction sites.

Critics claimed it did not go far enough, but FIFA told CNN Thursday that it was an important first step.

"We welcome the concrete steps taken which were announced by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy to ensure the welfare of workers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup," said a spokesperson.

"FIFA is pleased with the commitment of the local organizers to use the hosting of the FIFA World Cup to accelerate adequate uniform working standards in Qatar," it added.

In his evidence to the parliament, Zwanziger also acknowledged that with the global spotlight falling on the Gulf state there was "a risk and a chance... it can help improve the human rights situation."

Read: FIFA set Qatar deadline over migrant workers

But Zwanziger conceded that when the decision was made to award Qatar the 2022 competition its record on human rights had not sufficiently been taken into account.

"We need to rethink this and give human rights a much higher status," he said.

Other speakers addressing the parliament highlighted Qatar's kafala system -- which allows employers to withhold pay and prevent overseas workers from leaving the country by withholding their passport.

Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation wanted kafala to be ended immediately.

"Qatar is a slave state for 1.4 million migrant workers," she said.

"Workers live in squalor, and are forced to work under extreme conditions, in extraordinary heat; they don't have enough drinking water. They don't have a normal weekend, are kept apart from other workers, and there's no proper health care."

Read: Stranded footballer back in France after Qatar 'nightmare'

Zahir Belounis, the French-Algerian footballer, who was unable to leave Qatar for several months last year after a contractual wrangle with his club, also gave an emotional testimony before the parliament about his experiences.

Last November, European MEPs passed a resolution which called on the "Qatari authorities to stop detaining individuals for 'running away' from their employers," and demanded "working conditions that are in line with international human rights standards."

It followed a hard-hitting report from Amnesty International on conditions for migrant construction workers, who are involved in the estimated $200B infrastructure projects associated with the World Cup.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter responded to the report by saying the situation was "unacceptable" before giving Zwanziger responsibility for heading up an investigation.

Read: Blatter: Qatar conditions 'unacceptable'

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