The Football Association’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, made some interesting comments in response to questions about Qatar 2022 in a parliamentary committee hearing last week. Notable among them was the claim that the migrant workers whom the FA had met during “several trips” to Qatar, as well as “the NGOs on the ground”, were unanimous that “they want the World Cup to go ahead in Qatar”.

According to Bullingham, who said the FA would brief Gareth Southgate and his players on the situation before Saturday’s match with Switzerland, the top request of workers and NGOs is that FA “keep having regular visits there … shine a light on the country and help drive positive change”.

The FA is right to visit and consult with the organisations the Qatari government allows to have a presence there, but a few meetings with a handful of migrant workers is hardly the basis for a prevalence claim. The week before Bullingham’s comments, a coalition of NGOs, including the groups who have conducted the overwhelming majority of the independent research on migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, provided a detailed briefing to the FA and painted a far less rosy picture.

Human Rights Watch, for example, told of an ongoing case in which workers for a company with “multiple ongoing projects related to the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022” had not been paid for five months. FairSquare, who I represented at the meeting, and Amnesty International were also seriously concerned about the lack of progress on labour reforms.

Southgate and his players’ creditable stance on the issue of racial justice has led commentators such as Rod Liddle, Julia Hartley-Brewer and Tim Montgomerie to make accusations of hypocrisy over a failure to protest about human rights in Qatar. Thankfully, England’s impressive group of young players either aren’t aware or aren’t bothered by such sneering and have expressed a willingness to take on the issue.

“One of the incredible things that has come out of this group is that people try and make a difference all the time,” Conor Coady has said. “That is constantly happening in this squad, people trying to use their platform to make a difference.” The FA should be showing them the way. Here’s how it can do that.

There are a broad range of very serious problems in Qatar and multiple actors with different views on the reform process. Football associations and teams who want to make a difference should make simple calls on issues where there is no room for the type of debate that will leave them unsure of their footing. And there is one issue where none of the organisations working on this issue would disagree.

Labourers on the Katara Towers project in Lusail City leave the site at the end of the day. The Towers will host two luxury hotels that will open in time for the World Cup.
Labourers on the Katara Towers project in Lusail City leave the site at the end of the day. The Towers will host two luxury hotels that will open in time for the World Cup. Photograph: Pete Pattisson/The Guardian

Qatar 2022 has led to tremendous harm and suffering for many migrant workers and families whose loved ones never returned. “Now everything is shattered,” the wife of a 34-year-old Nepalese man who died in Qatar from unspecified causes in 2020 told Amnesty International. She has been left to raise two young children alone.

“Since becoming a widow, I get 2,000 rupees [US$16] monthly from the [Nepali] government. Sometimes when I get a job, I go to work on roads, farm and drainage. It is the only way to meet the family’s needs.”

There have been thousands of deaths of young men like this in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup, significantly more than half of them unexplained. No answer for families. No closure. No remedy for their loss.

To that can be added millions of dollars of wage theft that have left workers and their families from some of the world’s poorest countries indebted and destitute. A very large pile of newspaper articles and chunky reports are testament that all this happened in the course of the colossal construction programme Qatar had to push through to be ready for the World Cup.

The football associations whose teams will participate in Qatar 2022 stand to make millions from doing so. That should jar with people’s basic sense of justice when it is set in the context of such tragedy and loss. The FA can step up and show the way for other football associations by publicly supporting calls for compensation and remedy for migrant workers and their families.

This advice was relayed very clearly to the FA in our meeting. If Southgate and his players choose to add their support, that would lend significant momentum to calls that could transform many thousands of lives for the better.

Nicholas McGeehan is a director of FairSquare Research and Projects