Dutch daily SP!TS of 11 October 2013 has as its main subject, with big letters (translated):
“Qatar is an open-air prison”
” Of course you can not play football in the summer in Qatar,” says Abdeslam Ouaddou. But according to the 35-year-old defender, who played in that country for two years, that is not the main reason to move the 2022 World Cup away from the Arab emirate. “For who wants to sit in a stadium built with the blood of Asian slaves?”
The Moroccan defender Ouaddou played football from 2010 on for two years in Qatar. The adventure which began as a fairy tale without any reason changed from one day to another into a horrible nightmare. Three years ago, the 57-fold Moroccan international got a very attractive offer from Qatar to play football at Lekhwiya Sports Club.
” They were looking for an experienced defender who had played in European competitions and I had exactly that profile”, Ouaddou begins his story. The 1.91 meter long Moroccan was still hoping for a nice club in Europe. But after a career of twelve years, where he had played football with Olympiakos in Greece and in England at Fulham, at Nancy, Rennes and Valenciennes in France the interest in him had slightly decreased.
“I indeed did not have much choice. In Qatar I could get a nice three-year contract with the ambitious Lekhwiya SC. That club was and is owned by the same family (Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of the country ) which now owns Paris Saint-Germain.” At his new club in the wealthy Gulf state the first year exceeded expectations for Ouaddou.
Thought it was a joke
“It was a fantastic season. Everyone was happy. Lekhwiya was just promoted and we immediately became champions with me as their captain. In the summer I went on holiday to France, feeling satisfied. When I returned for the preparation of the next season suddenly everything was different. They did not need me, suddenly. During a training someone came to tell me that I had to leave the club. I did not understand, because we were champions and I wanted to play in the Asian Champions League with this team. Moreover, I had a contract for two years.”
“I actually thought it was a joke, but I soon realized that it was serious. No one could tell me why I had to leave. “Orders from the prince,” they said. Then I was transferred to Qatar SC , a club which is also owned by that family. I did not want to, but I realized that it was little use to go against the wishes of the most important man in the country. In Qatar SC I knew no one, it was a dramatic season”.
50 degrees Celsius
” Then the trouble really began. The club said they were not happy with me and that I had to leave. They offered me a month’s salary. I refused because I had a one-year contract. ” Ouaddou was then excluded from group training and in an attempt to force him to leave, he was completely isolated by the club. Moreover, he was not paid.
” They made me do physical workouts in the heat of the day. In 50 degrees Celsius. Purely to break me. But I did not budge. When they had not paid me for three months I have filed a case to FIFA. In total I have not been paid for one year. Meanwhile, I was expelled from my home, because the club did not pay the rent. One morning the landlord pounded on the door and shouted that we had to get out. I’m ashamed. Fortunately we were able to stay with friends.”
” In Qatar, as a foreigner you have no leg to stand on. In the kafala system, they can do whatever they want with you. Your employer, or sponsor as they call it, decides everything. If you come into a conflict with him, you’re in deep trouble. Only your sponsor can arrange an exit visa, without his cooperation you are unable to leave the country. The kafala system is apartheid in the 21st century.”
Only when Ouaddou threatened to go to Human Rights Watch he got his exit visa. “With my wife and three kids at the airport in Doha we were terrified that they would still stop us. Only when the plane took off, we dared to laugh. We were so glad we could go. My wife squeezed my hand and said: We are fortunate that we have escaped the open-air prison. I will never take a step in Qatar any more. My children of 12, 9 and 5 years cannot even hear the name of that country any more.”
Ouaddou knows that in football in Qatar there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of cases like his case and often much more poignant ones. “One is a friend of mine, Zahir Belounis, a Frenchman of Algerian origin. He has received no salary for two years. Things are very bad for him. He has been on hunger strike and is really desperate. He is even now about to commit suicide. Zahir has been held hostage for two years and he did not even have money to buy food for his children. It is incredible and outrageous how Qatar treats people like slaves. Zahir tries to keep his spirits up during the day, but I know that during the night he whines for misery like a child.”
“And we, football players, still got some respect. If Qatar already treats us this way, how then do you think that they treat the workers from Nepal, India, Pakistan and other Asian countries? Exactly: like complete slaves. Those people are worth nothing for the Qataris. Asians are also banned in major shopping malls. The Asians built these malls, but cannot go in there themselves. It is hard to imagine how racist the country is”.
Mothers and babies in cells
“Then we have not even talked about the tens of thousands of women from Nepal, India and Pakistan. Under the kafala system, they work as housekeepers, nannies or cleaners. Thirteen percent of these women are in prison. Not because they have done anything, but because they have been raped by their employers. A woman who becomes pregnant after a rape will get two years in prison with her baby. It is utterly inconceivable that a country which treats people like dirt can organize the biggest football tournament in the world.”
“I hope that this story will open the eyes of the people in Europe. Each year, 400 foreign workers die because of the terrible working conditions in Qatar. So if the stadiums will be ready in nine years, then some 4,000 laborers will have been killed for the World Cup. I do not think the big names in football such as Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Platini and Ronaldo will like to sit in a stadium built with the blood of hundreds of workers.”