Last minute recruits in Qatar point to safety issues at World Cup

DOHA, Nov 19 (Reuters) – Less than three weeks before the World Cup, the Qatar tournament’s security committee hired hundreds of men, some with no experience, to work as security guards tasked with crowd-watching at stadiums were, two of the recruits told Reuters.

The men, from countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Indonesia, attended theoretical training at the Qatar Police Academy in early November, were given uniforms and were first deployed to stadium training sessions just days before one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Some of the recruits had a security background, but there were also day laborers, drivers and clerks, one of the recruits said.

The last-minute preparations highlight the logistical challenges Qatar faced ahead of Sunday’s kick-off. The tiny Gulf nation has trained more than 50,000 people to ensure safety for an expected wave of 1.2 million visitors from around the world.

According to one of the guards, recruits received up to 10 hours a day of training on potential crowd control issues, including how to deal with drunks.

“We talk to them to understand their health condition. If he’s okay, we’ll send him on his way. If not, paramedic teams take over,” said the security guard, who is tasked with watching 50 to 100 people in a section in the stands, not near the pitch.

He estimates that more than 1,200 people have been recruited into his cohort – all Qatar residents.

With a population of 3 million – around 12% of whom are Qatari nationals – Qatar has faced a shortage of staff as it prepares for the month-long FIFA tournament.

Qatar is the first country in the Middle East and the smallest nation to ever host a World Cup. Despite spending billions of dollars on infrastructure, it has never organized an event of this magnitude, unusually for a World Cup, also being held in or near a single city.

It has drafted hundreds of civilians, including diplomats, recalled from overseas, into mandatory military service operating security checkpoints at World Cup host cities.

LABOR REFORMS

Qatar is already home to tens of thousands of workers employed as security guards outside of government buildings, college campuses and shopping malls.

Ahead of the kick-off, rights group Amnesty International said security forces worked long hours for months without a day off.

Qatar has introduced labor reforms over the past decade, including limitations on working hours, particularly during the heat, but says more needs to be done.

The two recruits, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were surprised to have been hired just weeks before the tournament.

Seven of the eight World Cup stadiums are brand new and have rarely seen large crowds.

The 80,000-capacity Lusail Stadium will host the finals on December 18. It has only held one big test event with almost 78,000 spectators.

The guards, who learned about the jobs through word of mouth and were interviewed in late October, will monitor areas inside the stadiums and report any problems to supervisors.

All serious problems are handed over to a “special unit”.

Neither the Qatari government nor the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar’s World Cup organizers, responded to a request for comment.

“In terms of preparations, Qatar’s security and police authorities have been present at all major football events and Olympic Games since 2010,” said a FIFA spokesman.

“And extensive, internationally accredited training programs have been implemented on key topics such as safety and crowd control, safety and risk management, and major accident emergency response.”

The second guard said the recruits could not intervene if a physical fight ensued and had no authority to arrest people.

“We will not intervene in any emergency situation. There are already other forces for that. Our job is just to monitor and report,” he said.

Writing from Michael Georgy Editor of Ros Russell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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