World Cup: Qatar manager calls migrant worker deaths 'greatest tragedy' on eve of kick off

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez believes the World Cup can be a force for good as he described the deaths of migrant workers as a “tragedy” on the eve of his side’s opening game.

Qatar has come under intense scrutiny over the organisation of the tournament, in particular the conditions endured by migrant workers who have built the infrastructure needed to stage it. 

In February 2021, the Guardian reported that 6,500 labourers had died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup. Authorities dispute the figure and say accident records show there were 37 deaths among workers between 2014 and 2020, three of which were "work-related".

Qatar will make their World Cup debut with an opening Group A fixture against Ecuador on Sunday, but the controversy will not stop when the football starts.

Spaniard Sanchez, who has worked in Qatar for 16 years, becoming manager of the senior team in 2017, was asked about the issues ahead of the match.

"A lot has been said about this, with some misinformation," he said through a translator. "In my opinion some of the comments weren't completely fair. Obviously the loss of human life during working is the greatest tragedy we can endure, whether here in Qatar or anywhere else in the world.

"We hope this World Cup means that all together we can work to improve conditions of these groups, not just in Qatar but everywhere else in the world."

Such is the level of controversy that participants from all nations have faced questions. A reporter sought to ask Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo about it during Saturday's press conference, but coach Gustavo Alfaro stepped in before the Brighton player responded.

"Please don't put us in trouble," Alfaro said. "We are in favour of all human rights, that's for sure. They are good players with their own talents, their own dreams and hopes, and they deserve to be praised for that."

Qatar, who won the Asian Cup title for the first time in 2019 and reached the semi-finals of the 2021 Confederations Cup, have risen to 50th in the world rankings - six places below Sunday's opponents, whom Sanchez nevertheless said should be clear favourites to win on paper.

Questions have been raised about the speed of Qatar's rise, particularly as they have conducted much of their preparations at remote training camps behind closed doors, but Sanchez called allegations of corruption "misinformation".

"No one will be able to destabilise us with this criticism," he said. "We are not affected at all. We are very much excited and motivated."

Caicedo is one of three Brighton players in the Ecuador squad, along with Pervis Estupinan and Jeremy Sarmiento, and Alfaro said they were vital to his team.

"We have to make the most of the opportunity that these players are experiencing and how much they are growing," he said. "Ecuadorian football needs to grow and wants to grow, and we need to have at least 30 to 35 players in Europe. That's the challenge."

Ecuador's place at the World Cup was only confirmed 11 days ago when the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed claims that Byron Castillo had not been eligible to play during qualifying in a dispute over his nationality.

But Castillo was ultimately left out of the World Cup squad, to the frustration of Alfaro who had wanted to include him.

"I believe Byron should be here, but at the same time respect the decision of the association," he said.

"For us the World Cup is not starting tomorrow, it started in October. If the player was eligible (during qualifying) he should be eligible for the World Cup. I don't have any doubt about that."

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