FIFA to Investigate BBC Staff Arrest, Imprisonment for Qatar World Cup Reporting

FIFA will investigate the arrest and the detention of BBC staff who were apprehended in Qatar while reporting on the difficulties faced by migrant workers ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Dan Roan of BBC Sport confirmed the football governing body’s intentions on Monday:

The BBC’s Mark Lobel went to Qatar to report on 2022 World Cup migrant construction workers at the invitation of the government. but was arrested and spent two nights in prison.

Mark Lobel, a Middle East correspondent for the BBC, was arrested in early May alongside a cameraman, a translator and a driver. In Lobel’s firsthand account for BBC News, he explains how the Qatari prime minister invited his team to view new accommodations built to house migrants who are completing work on the upcoming tournament’s stadia.

However, “while gathering additional material” for the report, Lobel and his team “were thrown into prison.”

Lobel details “hostile” questioning over the team’s motives for working outside of the organised trip’s boundaries. This visit was supposed to improve the image of conditions faced by Qatar’s construction teams, who have been subjected to “modern-day slavery,” according toRobert Booth and Pete Pattisson of the Guardian.

The BBC crew were held for two days and threatened with an extra four in prison, according to Lobel’s account. Once released, the team linked up with the intended press tour with no charges filed against them; however, the security services still hold the BBC’s equipment.

Lobel reports a German TV crew and other journalists have also been arrested recently. The Qatari government released a statement on the situation, suggesting the BBC crew engaged in trespassing when gathering information outside of the press trip, per Lobel:

The Government Communications Office invited a dozen reporters to see – first-hand – some sub-standard labour accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages. We gave the reporters free rein to interview whomever they chose and to roam unaccompanied in the labour villages.

Perhaps anticipating that the government would not provide this sort of access, the BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries. Security forces were called and the BBC crew was detained.

The BBC maintains its crew had full permission to operate freely, detailed in the organisation’s official response, as Lobel shared:

We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but we deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism.

The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment.

FIFA has confirmed it will investigate the situation, per Lobel: “Any instance relating to an apparent restriction of press freedom is of concern to FIFA and will be looked into with the seriousness it deserves.”

Rob Harris/Associated Press

Migrant workers’ conditions continue to come under intense scrutiny ahead of the 2022 World Cup. In December, Pattisson and Owen Gibson of the Guardian reported Nepalese migrants “died at a rate of one every two days in 2014” while working on facilities. This rate doesn’t include Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers.

Long working hours in the Qatari heat, combined with squalid accommodations and poor safety measures, are often cited as key problems in the country. Recently, ESPN’s E:60 documentary series investigated the continued troubles:

 

Rob Harris of the Press Association suggests such working conditions are also prevalent across other areas of the Middle East:

 

Osama Faisal/Associated Press

Having the 2022 World Cup during the winter, as the Press Associationreported in December (via ESPN FC), will significantly affect domestic and continental competitions across Europe, such as the Premier League, La Liga and the Champions League. The searing heat, which workers are exposed to, is often cited as too dangerous for footballers to play in.

However, Lobel’s article suggests those reporting on further problems in the country will be punished. Human Rights Watch (via Matthew Weaver of the Guardian) called the BBC crew’s detention “jaw-droppingly awful PR” for Qatar.

Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant rights researcher, told Lobel the arrests may have been an attempt “to intimidate those who seek to expose labour abuse in Qatar.”

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