2022 World Cup head 'confident' Qatar will keep event
ZURICH (AP) -- The head of Qatar's 2022 World Cup organizing committee says he's "comfortable and confident'' the tournament won't be taken from his country.
Hassan al-Thawadi defended Qatar's record on protecting migrant workers and pledged that labor rights were improving. There have been claims that dozens have died in the desert heat during construction work linked to the World Cup.
"It will always be our top priority,'' al-Thawadi said. "If the World Cup is doing anything, it is accelerating a number of these initiatives.''
Al-Thawadi met with media in a Zurich hotel near where FIFA's executive committee was discussing the labor issue at a two-day meeting that opened on Thursday. Trade union activists protested at the soccer body's gates.
The FIFA board chaired by President Sepp Blatter will debate on Friday if the 2022 tournament should be switched from the scheduled June-July dates because of the high Qatari temperatures.
Al-Thawadi said he had "no expectations'' about a FIFA decision, and Qatar is comfortable with any timetable for FIFA to choose the best months to play.
After weeks of speculation fueled by Blatter on how to switch the World Cup from summer, the labor issue has also grown in significance after a British newspaper published its investigation from Qatar and international labor activists sought to pressure FIFA to act.
"We are always comfortable and confident that the World Cup will not move from Qatar,'' said al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee.
The Qatari government said Wednesday it commissioned an independent review of conditions for more than one million migrant workers. Mostly from South Asia, the workers have complained of low pay and being required to hand over their passports to employers.
"We are looking at provisions for our contractors and we are in dialogue with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to look at not only the contracts but the mechanisms to enforce them,'' al-Thawadi said. "The government was looking into this before the World Cup came on board.''
Scrutiny of Qatar increased this week when France Football magazine, FIFA's commercial partner in the annual Ballon d'Or player awards, made more claims about the bid's spending and tactics in 2009-10 under the headline "Qatarclysme.''
The magazine revealed that FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia plans to visit all nine bidders in the 2018-2022 hosting contests to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Russia won the 2018 hosting rights.
"As far as I'm aware, no, so far he has not been in touch,'' al-Thawadi said of Garcia's probe, adding he was "absolutely not'' concerned where it could lead.
"Provided that the review and the look into this matter is done on a fair, equitable basis, with the principles of rule of law being adhered to, then there's no concern,'' he said.
Al-Thawadi dismissed speculation about how Qatar won the contest - defeating the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea - as conspiracy theories.
"I think what we're going to see is a picture of the grassy knoll in the JFK assassination and instead of it being smoke they're going to say it's the Qatari headdress and it's us,'' al-Thawadi said. "It proves the need for the Middle East to host a World Cup. It proves the need for us to actually be able to break down stereotypes.''
Stressing Qatar's plan to link a summer World Cup with humanitarian projects, al-Thawadi said air-cooling technology being developed for stadiums and team training sites could be used in greenhouses to improve food production.
"We are confident of our position, we are confident of what we have done, we're confident of our promises, we're confident of our ability to deliver promises,'' he said.
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