/ 21 November 2014

Ire as Qatar is named host of athletics champs

Kenyan runners are usually top performers in long distance races
Kenyan runners are usually top performers in long distance races

Human rights organisations have condemned the decision to award the 2019 World Athletics Championships to Doha and warned that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has “given its seal of approval to Qatar’s callous indifference” to workers’ rights.

Qatar, the frontrunner since losing to London for the 2017 event, beat Eugene, Oregon, by 15 votes to 12 after Barcelona was eliminated in the first round, meaning the Middle East will stage the event for the first time.

Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the president of the Qatari Athletics Federation and Doha’s bid leader, said: “We will raise the bar to create a legacy, starting from tomorrow.” But concerns were expressed that Qatar, which is embroiled in controversy over being given the right to host football’s 2022 World Cup, has been rewarded despite its ill-treatment of migrant workers, hundreds of whom have died while building sporting facilities.

Nicholas McGeehan, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “The IAAF must have known that Qatar’s labour system remains deeply exploitative, so this raises the question as to how important it considers the lives of the migrant workers. If Qatar had shown any signs of making significant reforms, then this decision could have represented just reward, but it looks like the IAAF has just given its seal of approval to Qatar’s callous indifference.”

Amnesty International has urged the IAAF to put plans in place to ensure that workers building the athletes’ village for Doha 2019 are given better treatment. Mustafa Qadri, its researcher on migrants’ rights in the Gulf, said: “Time is running out to address widespread migrant labour abuses in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup tournament. The IAAF must now make clear what plans it has in place to ensure no such abuses occur in the 2019 World Athletics Championships.

Few concrete steps
“This year the Qataris have announced some welcome, if limited, reforms. But few concrete steps have been taken to implement even these reforms. There are real concerns both events will take place under a shadow of migrant labour abuse.”

The Qatar ministry of labour and social affairs had previously rejected the suggestions. “This is not true. We have new legislation on our books and we have concrete plans to implement our existing and future laws more effectively,” it said.

The 400m world champion, Christine Ohuruogu, says she is concerned that Doha’s extreme heat will cause problems for the athletes – despite organisers moving the world championships from the traditional August date for the first time.

Temperatures between September 28 and October 6, when the event will take place, are likely to top 37°C, which Ohurougu fears will be dangerous for middle- and long-distance runners.

“Maybe the sprinters can get away with it but for the guys who are running laps and laps, I would be worried about what would happen to them and their health,” she said. – ©?Guardian News & Media 2014