‘It’s not acceptable for so many people to lose their lives’ – Kenny speaks out on human rights abuses in Qatar

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The manager does not know if his players are going to stage a protest ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against the World Cup hosts.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND manager Stephen Kenny does not know if his players will follow the examples of Norway, Germany and the Netherlands in staging a protest ahead of tomorrow’s friendly game with World Cup hosts Qatar. 

Norway wore designated t-shirts protesting human rights abuses in Qatar ahead of each of their World Cup qualifiers last week, with Germany and the Netherlands following suit. 

Any potential Irish action may be freighted with more meaning given it would take place ahead of a game against Qatar, though Kenny told his pre-game press conference he does not know if his players are planning anything. 

“I haven’t discussed that with the players. I’ll leave that to themselves, it’s whatever they want to do. But nothing is planned from my point of view.”

Kenny used the opportunity to speak out against human rights abuses in the Gulf state, however, at a virtual press conference which included Qatar broadcaster BeIN Sports among its attendees. 

“There is a clear issue with human rights in the building of stadiums in Qatar, and the number of people who have died. You can’t sweep that under the carpet, it can’t be ignored. Initially the Norwegian team and various other teams have backed that and they are entitled to do that, with good reason.

“It’s not acceptable for so many people to lose their lives. The disparity of wealth between rich and poor, to have people living in conditions of squalor and have people dying in those conditions is not acceptable.”

The Guardian reported last month that that 6,500 migrant workers have been killed in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded in December 2010. These figures include deaths from all large-scale infrastructure works, rather than solely related to World Cup stadia. 

Nick McGeehan of FairSquare Projects, an advocacy group specialising in labour rights in the Gulf, told the Guardian, “a very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.”

There are reportedly 2 million migrant workers living in Qatar, which makes up an estimated 88% of the region’s entire population. 

The award of the World Cup has drawn scrutiny on Qatar’s kafala – or sponsorship – system for these migrant workers, which leaves them  relying on their employers permission to change jobs or leave the country.  

This has led to exploitation, and in some cases, forced labour. 

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The laws were revamped last year, and workers no longer need permission from their employers to change jobs. The State also raised the minimum wage, but Human Rights Watch argued the changes did not go far enough, saying Qatar has also been slow to introduce other reforms such as employer consent to change jobs and a non-discriminatory, permanent minimum wage.

Some low wage workers are earning as little as £1 per hour.

Continuing his answer, Kenny posed himself a question as to what is effective sporting protest, questioning whether boycotts are effective. 

“Where do you draw the line? 

“Do you say, for example, America boycotting the Olympics in Russia, Russia boycotting the Olympics in America, what does that achieve? We’re not sure. Years later we still haven’t gauged a measurement of what that actually achieved. Is it the handing out of the World Cup to Qatar initially, is that the problem? Or should teams refuse to go and players refuse to play, those are different matters. It’s a broader picture then in sport: what other countries do you pick and say, ‘You can’t do that’?

“It is a very complex issue and something that needs a wider debate.”

Stephen Kenny, file photo.

Stephen Kenny, file photo.

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