England’s World Cup hopefuls had a kick-about with migrant workers who helped build the stadiums in Qatar today, as players thanked some of the world’s poorest for their contribution to the tournament.
Qatar is facing serious allegations about its use of migrant labour to prepare for the tournament, including that workers were paid just pence per day to toil in sweltering temperatures that put their lives at risk.
As a show of thanks, England manager Gareth Southgate took to the Al Wakrah training complex pitch along with captain Harry Kane and the likes of Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Harry Maguire, Raheem Sterling and James Maddison to meet some of the builders.
Nineteen of them were also handed tickets to England’s first game against Iran which will take place on Monday, as their World Cup campaign gets underway.
But it was later revealed that the event was hijacked by Qatar’s ‘Supreme Committee’ which arranged for hand-picked migrants to attend the session who had nothing but glowing praise for the Qatar government when they spoke afterwards.
Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka takes part in a training session with migrants workers at the Al Wakrah training complex in Qatar as the England team prepare to get their World Cup campaign underway
Manager Gareth Southgate takes a turn in goal during an impromptu penalty shootout with migrant workers at the England training camp in Al-Wakrah, Qatar
Captain Harry Kane smiles as he takes part in training drills with migrant workers at the Qatar World Cup, with the session held at the request of the team
England’s Harry Maguire saves a shot during a penalty shootout with Qatar migrant workers ahead of the World Cup
England captain Harry Kane and Harry Maguire shake hands with migrant workers who were invited to take part in a training session with the team after they arrived in Qatar
The England squad pose for a team photo with migrant workers during a training session in Qatar on Thursday night
England manager Gareth Southgate signs shirts for the Workers’ Welfare ‘Team 360’ players during a training session in Qatar
England’s Harry Kane poses for a photo with a local volunteer during the training event on Thursday evening in Qatar
Players from the Workers’ Welfare ‘Team 360’ with signed shirts and tickets to the match against Iran smile for the cameras
Manager Gareth Southgate speaks to migrant football players and the England team during the training session in Qatar
England’s Football Association is trying to lobby FIFA – the tournament organising body – into creating a permanent centre for the immigrant workforce in Qatar, which typically numbers in the millions.
The FA is also pushing FIFA to create a compensation fund for families who have lost loved ones on World Cup construction sites.
Officially, authorities in Doha say just three workers died building the stadiums – but human rights groups think the true figure is at least in the hundreds, if not the thousands.
An investigation by the Mail revealed that the deaths of 2,823 working-aged foreigners have been recorded as unexplained since the £6.5billion building blitz began in 2011, and it is feared that the true death toll for workers may exceed 6,000.
Southgate and his players spoke to the workers after the session, with FA chief executive Mark Bullingham also asking them questions about their experiences of building the eight stadiums and other infrastructure being used during the tournament.
At one point, the workers took part in a penalty shootout with Southgate – whose infamous missed penalty at Euro 96 saw England knocked out of the tournament – going in goal. England subsequently losing the light-hearted shoot-out.
An FA spokesperson said: ‘We said in September we wanted to invite some migrant workers into camp to meet the players and thank them for their role in helping deliver the tournament.’
England manager Gareth Southgate poses for photographs with the Workers’ Welfare ‘Team 360’ players in Qatar
England’s Bukayo Saka plays with the Workers’ Welfare ‘Team 360’ players during a Community Engagement event at the Al Wakrah Sports Club Stadium
Conor Gallagher signs shirts for the Workers’ Welfare ‘Team 360’ players during a training session in Qatar late Thursday
England manager Gareth Southgate with Harry Maguire, Conor Gallagher, Raheem Sterling and James Maddison in Qatar
At first it seemed an act of defiance against football’s governing body Fifa, which recently urged World Cup teams to ‘focus on the football’ and not ‘political battles’. Southgate – having flown his team to Qatar aboard a gay pride-themed jet – vowed they would not be ‘swayed’ from speaking out about causes important to them.
And England defender Conor Coady said yesterday the squad had discussed migrant worker and gay rights in Qatar, saying: ‘We will respect this country, but we believe in football for all. We want all supporters to come here, they push us and drive us – we respect everything in Qatar but we stand for what we stand for.’
It was important to meet the migrant workers, he said, adding: ‘It is something we really wanted to do. We are not politicians but it shows what you can do as England players to help people.’
But it later turned out that yesterday’s event was in fact organised by Fifa and the Qatar authorities – with the migrant workers hand-selected by the Qatari government’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
After the match, one of the men, Uzair Murtaza, 31, a health and safety manager who worked for contractor G4S helping to build stadiums, gushed: ‘This is a lifetime opportunity. Thanks so much to the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for providing us this opportunity to meet our international heroes. I met Harry Kane and Sterling. I said to them best wishes and best of luck.’
England’s Kieran Trippier and Nick Pope pose for photographs during the late-night training session in Qatar on Thursday
England team holds a welcome event with local volunteers at the Al Wakrah training complex in Qatar, late Thursday
England manager Gareth Southgate applauds the efforts of the migrant workers during a training session in Al-Wakrah, Qatar
Marcus Rashford poses for photographs during an event at the Al Wakrah Sports Club Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar
Mr Murtaza, who comes from Abbottabad in Pakistan, said: ‘I played a very tiny role in building this tournament and I hope it is one of the greatest tournaments in world history.’
Asked about the thousands of workers estimated to have died, he said construction site injuries were ‘a part of life’ and added: ‘The Supreme Committee really take care of the welfare of all the workers. I think Qatar did a very fantastic job.’
Ashlin Rafael Jacob, 27, an electrician who worked on stadiums for three years, said he was unaware of any injuries or deaths, insisting: ‘It is good conditions. It is very nice. It is very safe.’
The Gulf state has faced huge criticism over the treatment of migrant workers, many of whom were recruited from the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines and Africa, where the wages are even lower than the pittance they are paid in Qatar, many earning less than £20 a day. They were billeted in cell-like dorms, and made to work relentlessly in temperatures reaching 122F.
In a letter earlier this month to all teams, Fifa wrote: ‘Please, let’s now focus on the football! We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.’
Responding to the request last week, Southgate said: ‘Frankly, I’ll choose if I’m going to speak or not and I’m pretty sure the players will as well. So I don’t think we’re necessarily going to be swayed by that communication.’