THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The Dutch World Cup squad will meet a group of migrant workers in Qatar after a training session there ahead of the team's first match as part of the Dutch soccer federation's push to promote human rights at the tournament.
The Royal Dutch Soccer Association, KNVB, announced the plan Thursday night.
“First of all, we are going to Qatar to become world champions, but of course we look beyond football," coach Louis van Gaal said in a written statement.
He said that, as a team, "we find it important to meet the people involved. We therefore invite them to our training to give them a nice memory as well.”
At a news conference on Friday to unveil his World Cup squad, Van Gaal conceded that the meeting between the Dutch stars and the migrant workers was “contrived, because normally that wouldn't happen.”
But he defended the meeting, saying “the fact we want to do it says something about the thoughts of the KNVB and that’s what it’s about.”
The announcement came days after FIFA urged teams to focus on soccer at the World Cup, despite concerns over attitudes towards LGBTQ fans and the treatment of migrant workers. The Dutch federation said it organized the meeting with 20 workers together with FIFA and a labor union.
Migrant laborers who built Qatar’s World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, London-based rights group Equidem said in a 75-page report released Thursday.
Under heavy international scrutiny, Qatar has enacted a number of labor reforms in recent years that have been praised by Equidem and other rights groups. But advocates say abuses are still widespread and that workers have few avenues for redress.
Qatari officials accuse critics of ignoring the reforms and applying double-standards to the first Arab or Muslim nation to host the tournament.
Ambet E. Yuson, general secretary of the Building and Wood Workers’ International union, said migrant workers involved in construction projects linked to the World Cup have had better protection, but the same cannot be said for other workers in Qatar.
“Employers, often with impunity, continue to defy the law and breach the human rights of migrant workers. With the tournament approaching, progress on universal human rights standard has become urgent,” Yuson said.
The Netherlands, three times a World Cup runner-up, opens its campaign in Qatar against Senegal on Nov. 21. Van Gaal's team also plays Ecuador and the host nation in the group stage.
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