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Soccer Player Belounis Ready to Leave Qatar After 18-Month Delay

Zahir Belounis, a French soccer pro stuck in Qatar for 18 months because of a salary dispute, will arrive in Paris this evening after being given permission to leave the country.

The 33-year-old midfielder went through immigration at Doha’s international airport accompanied by his wife and children today. His flight was scheduled to leave for Paris at 1:40 p.m. Doha time and arrive at 8 p.m. Paris time.

The player, who came to the country in 2007 to play for the Doha-based Military Sports Association, said last month that his team had denied him a visa after he filed a case in a local court in February this year for unpaid wages. The intervention of the French embassy and even French President Francois Hollande, who visited Qatar in June and met with the then Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, failed to secure his freedom before now, he said.

He said he hasn’t been forced to drop a court case against his team in order to leave.

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 newspaper said Sept. 25 that 44 Nepalese workers died between June 4 and Aug. 8 amid “appalling labor abuses.” Amnesty International reported “widespread and routine abuse” of migrant workers in a Nov. 18 report.

Labor Improvements

The country’s government pledged to amend its labor laws to better protect workers and will step up work-site inspections, Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s governing body FIFA, told reporters Nov. 9 after meetings with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani and labor ministry representatives.

Belounis, who is of Algerian decent, left Switzerland’s FC La Tour/Le Paquier and came to Qatar in 2007 to play for the division-two Military Sports Association, he said. In 2010, he signed a five-year contract with the club and played for the 2010-11 season. The team was then promoted to division one and became a separate organization called Eljaish Sports Club.

Rather than play for Eljaish, Belounis said he was transferred to the division-two Al-Markhiya Sports Club and he stopped receiving the salary he was promised in his contract.

Last February, he filed a case in the local court, seeking damages plus four unpaid years of his five-year salary, which Belounis didn’t disclose. His case became tied up over whether his contract is with the Military Sports Association or the new Eljaish club, he said.

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