The head of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee has come under fire for calling the most recent death of a migrant worker at the tournament a “natural part of life”, the Guardian reported on Friday.
“Death is a natural part of life – whether at work or in your sleep,” said Nasser Al Khater, when asked about the Filipino man who was allegedly killed while carrying out repairs at a compound that had served training base for the Saudi team during the World Cup.
“At this moment the investigation is still ongoing and what happened and how it happened. And obviously that is something we are very sad about,” Al Khater said.
The man was fixing lights at the Sealine Beach complex, a villa complex, US sports website The Athletic reported.
He said the man slipped off a ramp while walking alongside a forklift and fell face-first into concrete. The enclosure served as a training base for the Saudi team, before their elimination during the group stage.
According to The Guardian, Al Khater asked why reporters wanted to tell him about the man’s death.
“We are in the middle of a World Cup,” he said. “And we have a successful World Cup. And that’s something you want to talk about now? A worker has passed away, our condolences to his family, but it’s odd that this is something you want to focus on as your first question.
“Look, worker deaths were a big topic during the World Cup. Everything that has been said and everything that has been reflected on the death of the workers is absolutely false,” he said. “We are a bit disappointed that reporters have exacerbated this false narrative.”
Human Rights Watch told the Guardian that Al Khater’s statement showed “complete disregard for the deceased migrant worker”.
“His statement that deaths do happen and it’s natural when they do, ignores the truth that many migrant worker deaths were preventable,” spokeswoman Rothna Begum said.
Amnesty International researcher on migrant labor rights, Ella Knight, told the newspaper that Khater’s assertion that every death was investigated was “simply untrue”.
Qatar has come under scrutiny over the conditions of migrant workers who have worked as part of the country’s massive construction campaign for the World Cup, including $200 billion worth of stadiums, metro lines and other infrastructure.
Last week, a senior Qatari World Cup organization official, Hassan al-Thawadi, put the number of worker fatalities during construction of the tournament at “between 400 and 500”, a number considerably higher than any another previously proposed by Doha.
The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, of which al-Thawadi is secretary-general, later said it was referring to work-related death figures from 2014 to 2020 nationwide, not specifically for the World Cup.
Qatari officials previously said there had been three work-related deaths during the construction of stadiums for the tournament, along with 37 other deaths of stadium construction workers not related to their work.
However, rights groups say more than 6,000 migrant workers are believed to have died during the construction of event sites.
Amnesty International is seeking more than $400 million in compensation for the families of those killed, but so far the sport’s governing body FIFA 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 environmental impact of air-conditioned stadiums, to the position and rights of LGBTQ people, women and minorities.