The head of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee has come under fire for dismissing the most recent death of a migrant worker at the tournament as a “natural part of life,” the Guardian reported Friday.
“Death is a natural part of life — whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep,” said Nasser Al Khater, when asked about the Filipino man reportedly killed while making repairs at a resort that had served as the Saudi team’s training base during the World Cup.
“Right now, it’s still under investigation and what happened and how it occurred. And obviously, it’s something that we feel very sad about,” Al Khater said.
The man was fixing lights at Sealine Beach resort, a compound of villas, US-based sports website The Athletic reported.
It said the man slipped off a ramp while walking alongside a forklift and fell headfirst against concrete. The compound served as the training base for the Saudi team, before its elimination during the group stage.
According to The Guardian, Al Khater questioned why journalists wanted to talk to him about the man’s death.
“We’re in the middle of a World Cup,” he said. “And we have a successful World Cup. And this is something you want to talk about right now? A worker died, our condolences to his family but it is strange that is something you want to focus on as your first question.”
“Look, workers’ deaths have been a big subject during the World Cup. Everything that has been said and everything that has been reflected about workers’ deaths has been absolutely false,” he said. “We’re a bit disappointed that the journalists have been exacerbating this false narrative.”
Human Rights Watch told the Guardian that Al Khater’s statement showed a “callous disregard for the migrant worker who has died.”
“His statement that deaths happen and that it’s natural when it does, ignores the truth that many migrant worker deaths were preventable,” said spokesperson Rothna Begum.
Amnesty International’s migrants’ labor rights researcher, Ella Knight, told the newspaper that Khater’s claim that every fatality was investigated was “simply not true.”
Qatar has come under heavy scrutiny over conditions for migrant workers who have done the labor in the country’s massive building campaign for the World Cup, including $200 billion worth of stadiums, metro lines and other infrastructure.
Last week, a senior official in Qatar’s World Cup organization, Hassan al-Thawadi, put the number of worker deaths during construction for the tournament “between 400 and 500,” a drastically higher number than any other previously offered by Doha.
The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, in which al-Thawadi is the secretary general, later said he was referring to figures of work-related deaths from 2014-2020 nationwide, not specifically for the World Cup.
Qatari officials had earlier said there were three work-related fatalities during construction of stadiums for the tournament, along with 37 other deaths of stadium construction workers not related to their work.
However rights groups say over 6,000 migrant workers are thought to have died while constructing event sites.
Amnesty International is seeking over $400 million in compensation for the families of those killed, but so far FIFA, the sport’s governing body, has not agreed, according to the Guardian.
The World Cup has sparked multiple controversies — from the deaths and living conditions of migrant workers, to the impact on the environment of air-conditioned stadiums, and the position and rights of LGBTQ people, women and minorities.