'Qatar’s World Cup is historic – and even our fiercest critics accept the progress we have made’

H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), responded to Qatar’s critics during the FIFA Congress on Thursday, saying the country’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup™ represented an historic opportunity to change perceptions about the Middle East and Arab world. He also said the tournament had acted as a catalyst to drive workers’ rights reforms in the country.

Al Thawadi outlined the major progress delivered by Qatar and the SC in recent years in relation to workers’ rights in a direct rebuttal to Lise Klaveness, President of the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF), who discussed human rights and workers’ welfare during her address. Al Thawadi said Qatar would provide a benchmark in relation to legacy and worker reforms for future mega-event hosts.

Al Thawadi expressed disappointment in the NFF for not requesting a meeting and making no attempt to understand the challenges faced in relation to workers’ rights. He called for dialogue and reiterated that Qatar had always been open and transparent with critics. Al Thawadi also said that even Qatar’s fiercest critics over the past decade had recognised the progress delivered by the country in recent years.

He said: “As World Cup hosts, we are acutely aware of the international spotlight that comes with the hosting rights for the greatest show on earth – and, ladies and gentlemen, we have embraced it. We have committed to welcoming the world and to enhancing understanding through the power of football in a spirit of openness, transparency and dialogue. Because for us, this tournament always represented more than a month of football.”

Al Thawadi continued: “Madam President [Ms Klaveness] visited our country and made no request for a meeting, did not attempt to contact us and did not attempt to engage in dialogue before addressing congress today. I urge everybody, we have always been open for dialogue. We have always welcomed constructive criticism.

“I would like to inform yourselves, as well as the Norwegian Federation and anybody who might share similar views on the legacy of the World Cup, who might have doubts or questions about the legacy of the World Cup, that this World Cup is creating legacy. We’re creating legacy before a ball has even been kicked. The International Labour Organization has described Qatar’s reforms as ‘historic’. The International Trade Union Confederation considers Qatar’s updated laws as a benchmark for the region. Building and Wood Workers’ International has compared the safety standards on World Cup sites as equal to those in Europe or North America.

“Remember, that a number of these entities that I have mentioned were, at one time, outspoken adversaries. But through taking time to understand the complexities of the situation on the ground, and through a shared commitment to improving lives, those who were once adversaries became allies and partners in a shared journey to ensuring that this World Cup makes a difference and leaves a difference. Not for 28 days, not for a few months, but long-term sustainable progress that lasts for decades after the last ball has been kicked. And, I urge you ladies and gentlemen, this commitment should be recognised.”

Al Thawadi went on to say Qatar 2022 would showcase the country and region in a positive light.

He said: “For years and decades, even centuries, our region and culture have too often been defined through the prism of conflict, war and the ensuing stereotypes and assumptions that result from a lack of familiarity, a lack of understanding, and highlighting the divisions between East and West. The most important legacy of this World Cup will be to serve as an antidote to this prism and provide a window for the world into a region that is rarely captured.”

Al Thawadi added: “What the World Cup has done – it has assisted in accelerating the process. Through the vision and drive of our government, through the support of FIFA, and supported by international partners and constructive dialogue, we have been able to achieve this progress.

“I am confident that when you see what we’ve done, you will recognise that we will be the benchmark upon which future tournaments will look towards in terms of achieving some of the objectives that we’ve been able to achieve.”