Fifa president Infantino to discuss Qatar ‘labor excellence hub’ in Davos | World Cup 2022

Gianni Infantino is to meet with the head of the International Labor Organization in Davos to discuss the proposed “labor excellence hub” that remains Fifa’s flagship commitment to a post-World Cup legacy in Qatar.

The president of Fifa will visit Gilbert Houngbo, after returning to his native Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum, a gathering of the global elite at the grand alpine resort. During the meeting he is expected to seek to put flesh on the bones of an idea that remains short on precise detail.

One month after a celebrated final in Lusail, World Cup organizers released a deluge of data on Wednesday testifying to the success of the Qatar tournament. The most goals ever in a World Cup, 3.4m spectators in the stands and 1.4m foreign visitors. 1.5 billion, meanwhile, were watching the final on TV, while the Fifa+ “search hub” was a TikTok hit and Google saw its biggest search traffic in 25 years; the list goes on.

All are numbers lending credence to Infantino’s claim that this was the “best World Cup ever”, one that in the words of the Secretary General of Qatar’s Supreme Committee, Hassan al-Thawadi, “will set a benchmark for future mega event hosts”. While the numbers are dazzling, questions still remain, with Fifa’s commitment to some form of enduring human rights legacy in the country first and foremost.

There will be no migrant workers’ center and no fund directed to remedying the injury and loss experienced, much to the disappointment of campaigners and European football nations. Instead, a legacy fund is to be spread around the world and directed at children’s education, but again the precise mechanism is currently unconfirmed, as is the size of the fund.

What precisely the “excellence hub” will involve requires discussion with the ILO, although the union first want to agree a longer-term “memorandum of understanding” with Fifa before discussing an idea they describe only as “possible”. A broader ILO presence in Qatar, one that was instrumental in bringing about changes in labor laws in the country over recent years, comes to an end in December 2023.

Stadium 974 reflected in rainwater in Doha
Stadium 974 is still standing in Doha nearly a month after the World Cup final. Photograph: Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Infantino announced during the World Cup that it will be succeeded by a permanent office for the ILO in Doha, a place where trade union activity remains heavily controlled. While the ILO say Qatar has made a formal request to establish an office no details have yet been agreed.

Other issues of legacy are less controversial but equally unresolved, such as the case of Stadium 974. One of the eight World Cup venues, Stadium 974 received global attention for its unconventional aesthetics (it is constructed from recycled shipping containers) and claims it was uniquely sustainable as the structure could be disassembled and shipped elsewhere.

One month after the final the stadium is still standing, however, with the precise timeline for its ultimate disassembly “still being finalised” according to the Supreme Committee. As yet there are no confirmed requests to rebuild the stadium elsewhere and rumors suggest Stadium 974 may actually stay put in Doha and be one of the venues used for the Asia Cup, which takes place in Qatar in 12 months’ time.

A similar question hangs over the numerous accommodation sites put up for fans, with some expected to be returned to their manufacturers while others await new homes. Again a rumor suggests villages – some of which became the subject of online notoriety – could yet be bought by British companies and turn up in the UK.

Like the innovative in-stadia air conditioning technology that took the edge off hot afternoons in the Doha winter, the massive infrastructure build was a response to the unique challenge leveled by Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup. Only time will tell how much of the innovation and construction proves useful beyond last year’s month-long tournament.

But as the eyes of the world move away from the Gulf, the legacy of Qatar will remain in the mind of sports governing bodies who will have to consider a new paradigm when pondering possible hosts of “future mega events”.

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