Canada Soccer head addresses World Cup human rights concerns

The general secretary of Canada Soccer says the organization is renewing its call for improved labor rights in Qatar after the governing sports body was criticized for its “deafening silence” on fair compensation for migrant workers.

Speaking to CTV National News Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor Omar Sachedina in an exclusive interview, Earl Cochrane addressed open questions about Canada Soccer’s stance on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar, who helped build the stadiums used for this year’s FIFA World Cup.

One analysis by The Guardian newspaper found at least 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died.

Cochrane pointed to a statement Canada Soccer released on Oct. 28, in which the organization said it “supports the ongoing pursuit of further progress regarding workers’ rights and inclusivity as Qatar prepares to host the world.”

But in an open letter to Cochrane on Friday, Amnesty International Canada said Canada Soccer’s “deafening silence on fair compensation for affected migrant workers and their families is a failure of leadership and could leave a lasting stain on Canada’ re-emergence on soccer’s biggest stage .”

Despite meeting with Canada Soccer previously, Amnesty International accused the organization of not following up.

Among the calls from Amnesty International is for Canada Soccer to support a US$440-million Workers Compensation Fund for laborers and their families, something other soccer associations have backed.

“We’ve continued to make the request of our governing body and asked them along with the Qatari government to continue to do the work to make the change,” Cochrane told CTV National News.

Below is a partial transcript of the interview with Sachedina. The transcript has been edited for clarity:

Omar Sachedina: One of the things we’re saying is that your organization’s ‘deafening silence’ on fair compensation for affected migrant workers and their families is a failure of leadership, and could have a lasting stain on Canada’s re-emergence on soccer’s biggest stage. What do you think is fair? What’s your reaction to that?

Earl Cochrane: Well, we did come up with a statement a couple of weeks ago, that referred to our stance, our commitment, and our ask of all the stakeholders involved FIFA, government, Qatar, to continue the work that they’ve done, to deal with some of the issues on the ground — with rights issues, migrant workers issues. And we renewed that goal. We want them to do and continue to be at the table to make the necessary changes to affect the lives that are on the ground. We would hope and encourage that they do everything they can for the migrant workers for the families that were lost, and to continue, once the lights have been turned off here in Qatar and the world’s got away, to continue the progress that they’ve Made.

Sachedina: Do you think there could be more that Canada soccer could be doing and saying? Because ‘deafening silence,’ I mean, I’m quite surprised to hear that.

Cochrane: I’m not sure. I’m not sure the language has been ‘deafening.’ You know, we made the statement a couple of weeks ago. We stand behind the rest of the international community in hoping that the changes that have been made continue to be made, and that the progress that has been made continues to affect the lives that are on the ground.

Sachedina: They’ve got two specific questions, it looks like. One is for Canada Soccer to join the $440 million workers compensation fund for laborers. And it looks like the English Football Association, the French Football Federation, the Royal Dutch football association, and US Soccer have all done that. But Canada Soccer has not. Why has Canada Soccer not joined that fund?

Cochrane: We’ve continued to make the request of our governing body and ask them, along with the Qatari government, to continue to do the work to make the change. We believe it’s their decision to make on how they affect those changes.

Sachedina: So for those people who say that Canada Soccer is punting it off to FIFA and Qatar and Canada Soccer should perhaps be taking a lead on this like other countries’ soccer federations, what do you say to those people?

Cochrane: I will say that our public statement is asking both FIFA and the Qataris, who are the responsible entities for not just what is happening in Qatar, but the event itself. It’s FIFA’s event. It’s up to them to make those decisions.

Sachedina: How do you balance some of the issues that are coming to the fore — the human rights issues and the fact that there is a lot of anticipation for this huge sporting event as well?

Cochrane: Quite honestly, the fact that we’re here for a sporting event has shone a bright light on the workers’ issues, on the inclusion issues. I’m a firm believer that sport has the ability to change and this is one of those instances where, you know, the challenges and the issues or the rights abuses that have occurred here have gradually started to change. And quite frankly, they changed because of football.

With files from CTVNews.ca FIFA World Cup writers and producers Emily Wilson and Vivek Jacob

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