Union Calls on FIFA to Help Player in Contract Spat Leave Qatar

Soccer’s biggest player union urged the sport’s global governing body to help a French midfielder involved in a contract dispute to leave Qatar, the host country of the 2022 World Cup.

Zahir Belounis, a 33-year-old who moved to Qatar in 2007, has been denied an exit visa following a claim for unpaid wages against his employer, El-Jaish soccer club. Belounis said in an interview two days ago that only his family is keeping him from suicide, and described himself as a “destroyed” man.

FIFPro, the Netherlands-based players union, said on its website that it had asked for help from Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s ruling body FIFA, “in a desperate bid to unite the international football family and finally end the impasse.”

Belounis said an agreement that would have allowed him to leave fell through when the team changed the terms. El-Jaish couldn’t be reached for comment.

FIFA has said it can’t intervene because the player lodged his claim with a court in Qatar rather than the soccer body’s dispute-resolution panel, which deals with contract disputes.

“FIFA has to date received no contractual claim from Belounis against his Qatari club as well as any accompanying documentation to support his case,” the federation said in an e-mailed statement.

Qatar has faced scrutiny over its treatment of foreign workers since winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup three years ago. The U.K.’s Guardian reported on Sept. 25 that 44 Nepalese workers died between June 4 and Aug. 8. Qatar said on Oct. 3, through the state-run Qatar News Agency, that it hired the law firm DLA Piper to investigate the allegations.

Presidential Visit

French President Francois Hollande, who visited Qatar in June, discussed Belounis’s case with the then-Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. Those talks failed to yield a breakthrough.

Belounis said he can’t leave because of Qatar’s “kafala” employment system, which prevents workers from exiting the country without written permission from their employers.

Living without an income has forced Belounis to sell off most of his personal possessions, and he and his family are living in an unfurnished rented apartment that they must must leave in days, according to FIFPro.

The players union said its secretary general, Theo van Seggelen, has written asking for Blatter’s “urgent intervention” in the case. The FIFA president was in Doha last week, meeting with high-ranking officials including the emir. Following the talks, Blatter told reporters Qatar was working on changes to its labor laws and would carry out a greater number of spot checks.

Foreigners make up about 80 percent of Qatar’s population of 2 million. Under the country’s sponsorship system, most must obtain their employer’s permission any time they want to leave the country.

FIFPro said it was aware of similar cases involving players and coaches contracted with Qatari teams.

“Therefore, FIFPro wants to have discussions with the Qatari authorities and FIFA regarding the application of the kafala sponsorship system,” it said.

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