Fair play on the football pitch and beyond

November 25, 2013

Last week in the European Parliament I had the opportunity to participate in a very important debate, which combined two issues close to my heart: human rights and football.

Human rights are at the core of the European Union; our cooperation is firmly based on shared values and respect for fundamental rights. And football is an essential element of the contemporary European culture and way of life.

No doubt, I declare personal interest. I am not a football fan; it is just a way of life for me. I got my first ball before I learnt to walk, and still must get to play at least once a week, if only for the sake of my mental health. But I do not consider football only as a sporting activity. Football can play an important role in economic and social progress, not least by offering young boys and girls a valuable social activity and helping them appreciate fair play and the combination of individual excellence and effective teamwork. In other words, it should help them appreciate that there is indeed such a thing as “society”.

The European Parliament debate to which I am referring concerned the situation of migrant workers in Qatar. Recently, there have been alarming reports on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. These workers, amongst others, are building the infrastructure that is needed for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

As a footballer and former football official, I see this as a litmus test for FIFA and European officials in FIFA.
This is a stark reminder of the need to pay more attention to the situation of millions of men and women migrating in search of a better life. The situation of migrant workers in Qatar requires significant improvement in accordance with ILO conventions.

The initiative of the Qatari authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations is a welcome step. So is the Qatar Supreme Committee’s announcement on 18 November to force companies building projects for the 2022 World Cup to guarantee welfare standards for workers.

These positive developments should not be limited to the football field. They must be extended to all foreign workers in Qatar. Successfully addressing shortcomings will require constructive cooperation between local authorities, governments of the workers’ countries of origin, recruitment agencies and the private sector.

The FIFA leadership, for its part, should make sure that the 2022 World Cup will act as a catalyst for positive social change, including an improvement of the labour rights and living conditions of migrant workers.

Many professional footballers today are living proof that football can open up a way out of poverty. Even after the numerous injuries I have suffered, I am still convinced that football is good for you. We need to ensure that football is also good for the people who are working on making it happen.

It is essential that FIFA aims at fair play, not only on the football field but also on the construction sites and in the working conditions of migrant workers.

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