(WFI) As FIFA probes why BBC journalists were jailed for reporting allegations of migrant workers’ abuses in Qatar, World Cup sponsors are being urged to speak out about the issue.

On a bad day of PR for Qatar and its World Cup organisers, FIFA said it the restriction of press freedom, clearly outlined in a report by the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Mark Lobel, “will be looked into with the seriousness it deserves”.

Lobel and his news team were arrested and jailed for two days – even though they were invited by the Qatari government on a media trip to see the new accommodation for workers involved in the multi-billion-dollar World Cup construction effort. They were eventually released and allowed to participate in the media tour. However, their equipment remains confiscated.

Without issuing any apology, Qatar’s government spokesman said the BBC reporters were arrested because they were “trespassing” on private property, insisting that the real story was that the government and private sector was making significant progress to improve labour conditions of migrant workers.

The plight of World Cup workers was also making headlines in London at a media briefing staged by New FIFA Now and the International Trade Union Confederation.

International workers’ unions today joined forces with FIFA pressure groups to demand that FIFA sponsors accept their corporate responsibility and challenge human rights abuses at World Cup infrastructure construction sites in Qatar.

The initiative was coordinated by sports compression wear company SKINS, whose chairman chairman is leading the New FIFA Now push for wholesale reforms of FIFA including the removal of Sepp Blatter.

Fuller today presented evidence of squalid living conditions for migrant workers employed in Qatar under the kafala system of tied employment. FIFA’s rejection of any responsibility was condemned.

Fuller said he had written to eight FIFA sponsors – Adidas, Gazprom, Hyundai, Kia, McDonald’s, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Visa – urging them to act and accusing them of contravening their own values and principles by contributing significant sums of money to FIFA and thereby providing ‘implicit support’ for working practices and conditions in Qatar.

He tells each company’s CEO that migrant workers on World Cup infrastructure related sites are: “denied basic human rights as well as the fundamental humanity, morality and decency that you and I, and the people we employ, are entitled to take for granted”.

The sponsors are each invited to support the #NewFIFANow call for an independent FIFA reform commission to “review, develop and implement an overhaul of FIFA’s statutes, committee structure and way of doing business”.

“The kafala problem is just the tip of the FIFA iceberg but it graphically shows their negligence and their level of self-denial when it comes to confronting international football’s major issues,” Fuller said.

“FIFA refuses to accept any responsibility for the Qatari issue and remains riddled with allegations of corruption, mismanagement and poor decision making – all of which it refuses to confront to the satisfaction of the international community.

“So far, FIFA’s sponsors have restricted themselves to a series of rhetorical statements aimed at defending an indefensible association.”

International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow and Stephen Russell of the UK Trade Union Congress-backed group Playfair Qatar also attended the event, along with British Conservative MP Damian Collins, a vocal campaigner for change at FIFA.

Burrow branded Qatar as a “slave state”

“The discrimination, the racism, the denial of rights for 1.4 million migrant workers adds up to apartheid and a model of employment that is simply slavery. There is a conspiracy of silence by governments and major sporting and cultural institutions that allow it to continue. The world must not be duped by Qatar’s empty promises of reform,” she said.

Russell from Playfair Qatar, said: “The World Cup is supposed to be a celebration of all that is good in sport. However, as things stand, more than 62 workers will die for each game played during the 2022 tournament.

“FIFA and its sponsors cannot wash their hands over what is happening. They have a moral responsibility to ensure that Qatar ends these human rights abuses now. FIFA will do nothing for its reputation and that of football if it refuses to act.”

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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