Virgil van Dijk would have preferred to meet the 20 stadium builders behind the scenes, as he candidly put it, out of the sight of eagerly rolling cameras in Doha. “I understand how it’s done, but after that it feels more personal and honest,” the captain said Thursday night, after an intense meeting with a group of migrant workers from India, Nepal, Cameroon and Ghana, among others. Louis van Gaal indeed called the event contrived. “But it’s also important that we get noticed,” said the national coach.
The Dutch national team met the group on the training ground of a large university complex in Qatar, officially with the permission of FIFA. Autographs were signed and a large number of children were given. Laughter echoed throughout the field during the two parties involved. Most of the workers were energetic, sometimes literally bursting with excitement.
“The enthusiasm was huge,” says Van Dyck. “Maybe it was something very simple, but it’s really nice that we gave these guys a special day.”
The topic surrounding the situation of migrant workers in Qatar has been sensitive for years. Hundreds of thousands of people from countries like Nepal, India and Bangladesh worked building stadiums, roads and hotels, often under appalling conditions. There were many deaths, according to human rights organizations, in the thousands, though the exact number of deaths is unclear.
“Of course we are not deaf or blind about this,” says Van Dyck. “That’s why we wanted to do something: meet the people who really matter.”
To be noticed
Therefore, the Dutch national team is one of the rare participants in the World Cup that draws attention to the working conditions of millions of immigrants in Qatar during the tournament. Earlier, the players of Australia issued a special video message on the subject, while Denmark decided to play in special shirts, without advertisements or visible logos, including an all-black shirt.
England, America and Canada also planned a meeting with stadium builders in Qatar, but those teams did or are doing so (partly) behind closed doors. KNVB consciously decided to opt for public access: the entire international press was welcomed into the field of training.
“I understand there are a lot of people who don’t think that’s enough,” says de Jong. “This is also allowed. In the context of the World Cup, we tried to do what we could, in dialogue with the players.”
KNVB is still trying to defend a large compensation fund from FIFA, along with the group of other European nations, including Canada, Australia and the United States. The question is whether this will work. De Jong: There are 211 member countries in FIFA. Unfortunately, we are in the minority – and the question is whether we can have our say on Saturday at the Grand Summit, a traditional conference for every World Cup. But we will keep trying.”
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