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England FA chief Mark Bullingham: Qatar making 'strong progress' on human rights issues ahead of World Cup

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English Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham has said Qatar has made "strong progress" in addressing human rights issues and added that next year's World Cup could be the catalyst for lasting positive change in the Middle East.

FIFA's decision to award the 2022 finals to Qatar has been mired in controversy ever since the 2010 vote as a result of allegations of corruption, the welfare of migrant workers and the country's anti-LGBTQ laws.

In June, UEFA established a working group to examine the specific issue of human rights in Qatar and first visited the country in August, involving a series of meetings with representatives of various bodies including the International Labour Organisation, the National Human Rights Committee, the Qatar Football Association and a trip to the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium where seven matches are scheduled.

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Bullingham was part of the travelling party and the English FA chief hailed the positive moves taken -- specifically the ending of the kafala system in September 2020, which previously prevented workers changing jobs without their employer's permission -- while adding there was still work to do ahead of the finals which begin on Nov. 21 next year.

"The first point we always make is we are not perfect ourselves as a country and I think we have to establish that early on when we talk about any other country," he said on Monday.

"I am on the UEFA working group on human rights and therefore have been out to Qatar. We met with the migrant workers, we met with some of the charities out there as well and I think that has helped us get a bit of a picture which is we believe that the legislation the Qataris have brought in over the last few years has been strong progress from a fairly low base -- the removal of the kafala system, the insulation of a minimum wage, bringing through a standardised contract for workers a maximum temperature [for working] and lots of other steps forward in the legislation.

"What is very clear though is the legislation isn't being applied universally and that has to be the next step and that's where we see the real progress will come through.

"From our side, having met the workers, one thing they absolutely were clear on was that the World Cup had driven real change and their plea to us really was: 'Please keep coming, please keep understanding more, please keep seeing what's going on here and about the progress being made' and by constantly visiting the region, you can see that.

"We made a commitment as the UEFA working group not only to keep visiting before the World Cup but to continue after that as well.

"In terms of the charities, I think they all have that opinion. Legislation has been positive but needs implementation to follow through. The charities' request of us is quite clear.

"What they want us to do, both from an English FA point of view but also all of the UEFA countries, is ensure that companies we are working with on the ground in Qatar are implementing their legislation, are giving support for workers, workers committees and so on. So, making sure we are working with the best possible partners there which we will endeavour to do.

"The only other thing I'd reflect on -- and we've reflected on it as the UEFA working group -- is there is a lot of focus on Qatar but we really see the opportunity for the World Cup to drive change for the broader region where there are still challenges in other countries neighbouring Qatar as well.

"Wouldn't it be a fantastic legacy for the World Cup if, for example, the kafala system was changed in the region as a totality rather than just focusing on Qatar? That's our perspective."

England manager Gareth Southgate cited the experiences of discrimination his players suffered during matches in Montenegro and Bulgaria in recent years but admitted the political situation was something the 51-year-old and his players needed to understand further.

"I'm trying to take the opportunity to educate myself far better into what's going on in that part of the world because I've got to make sure that factually I am correct and we understand both sides of the stories," Southgate said.

"We would look to try to help the players so they are as prepared as they can be for those discussions and when they speak publicly. Of course, some of the issues that we are dealing with, we have confronted because they've been thrown onto us really.

"We went to Montenegro, we went to Bulgaria as a team and suffered from the racism in the stadiums. It was very clear that it was affecting our team, the lives of our players and it meant we became much more aware of dealing with those issues as a collective and individually.

"This is slightly different in that this is another part of the world we are going into and there are clearly things that when we read, we have concerns about. But it is also not 100% clear, all of the information and exactly the truth, where we are now, what's historic and what's current."