Blatter urged to help player trapped in Qatar
GENEVA (AP) - FIFA President Sepp Blatter has been urged to step in and help resolve a contractual dispute which has trapped a player for two years in Qatar, the host nation of the 2022 World Cup.
Zahir Belounis, who is under contract to Qatari side Al-Jaish until 2015, has been denied the chance to leave the country because he is suing the club in order to recover his unpaid salary.
FIFPro, the international union for footballers, said Wednesday it made a ''desperate bid'' to enlist Blatter's help for the French-Algerian player's ''precarious situation.''
''FIFPro insists that Belounis be allowed to leave Qatar and receive his wages immediately,'' the Netherlands-based union said in a statement.
FIFA said it was not involved in the case because Belounis did not pursue his claim through its judicial body.
''FIFA is unable to intervene in this matter given that Mr. Belounis chose the option of contacting an ordinary court in Qatar instead of the second option available to appeal to FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber,'' it said in a statement.
The case has highlighted the ''kafala'' employment system in Qatar, which stops workers from leaving without written permission from employers.
''Stranded in the Gulf nation, together with his wife and two daughters, the 33-year-old (Belounis) has been repeatedly denied an exit visa until he agrees to drop legal proceedings against his former club, Al-Jaish, over a claim of almost two years of unpaid wages,'' FIFPro said.
FIFPro said secretary general Theo van Seggelen has written asking for Blatter's ''urgent intervention'' with Qatari officials on Belounis' behalf.
Blatter met with officials in Doha last weekend, including the Emir of Qatar, and said he was satisfied with assurances that working conditions and rights were being improved for tens of thousands of migrant laborers on World Cup construction projects.
As the FIFA president left, a United Nations delegation recommended abolishing the kafala system when it completed a week-long inspection visit to assess conditions for migrant workers.
Van Seggelen wrote that Belounis ''should be freed, able to play for a new club and be guaranteed that he can claim his unpaid salary in a case before FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber,'' of which he is a member.
FIFPro said board member Mads Oland will travel to Qatar with officials from the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to meet with the Belounis family ''and force the issue of their extraction.''
The union, which represents around 60,000 players worldwide, has offered to pay for the family to find new accommodation.
Belounis joined Qatari side Al-Jaish in 2007 and was later made a Qatari national, FIFPro said.
Despite signing a contract extension, he was out of favor when Al-Jaish exceeded its quota of foreign players and his salary was stopped in November 2011.
When Belounis sought legal help to have his contract honored, the club exerted ''considerable pressure to terminate his contract and sign a document confirming he was owed nothing,'' the union said.
FIFA said it ''has to date received no contractual claim from Zahir Belounis against his Qatari club as well as any accompanying documentation to support his case.''
''FIFA fully respects basic human rights and also requests that its member associations and the hosts of its events fully respect them,'' the governing body said.
Still, the players' union expects the World Cup host's name to be involved in future disputed cases.
''FIFPro is aware that there are many more players (and coaches) who are experiencing similar conflicts with Qatari clubs,'' it said.