Fifa president Sepp Blatter faces protests as he opens Hong Kong Football Association's new HQ
Handful of protesters wave placards over workers' treatment for Qatar World Cup
Protesters waving red cards at Fifa president Sepp Blatter overshadowed the opening of the new offices of the Hong Kong Football Association at Ho Man Tin on Thursday.
Blatter, the chief guest at the inauguration of the refurbished headquarters of local football, airily brushed aside the presence of about a dozen young protesters demonstrating against the deaths and the exploitation of migrant workers building stadiums for the 2022 Qatar World Cup despite his opening address almost being drowned out by the loudspeaker-wielding crowd.
“We are in a festive mood here today, inside, and not outside,” joked Blatter before declaring open a plaque in the lobby of the HKFA building.
Metres away, outside the building and barred by security officers, the protesters shouted “shame on Blatter, shame on Fifa” and held up placards which read ‘No Bloodstained World Cup’, ‘World Cup or Toil Hub?’, ‘Workers are not slaves’’, ‘We play football, we do not kill’.
Their presence forced one of the most powerful men in world sport to use the backdoor entrance to the ceremony which also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the HKFA.
Asked for his reaction to the demonstration, HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said: “They are entitled to their opinion and entitled to express it.”
Qatar has been accused of working 1,200 people to death in its building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup. It has been reported that migrant workers, mainly from the sub-continent, are forced to work in dangerous conditions and live in squalor while earning a pittance.
Blatter, 78, spoke amid rising concern that the country hosting this year's World Cup, Brazil, is not up to the job. The competition begins on June 12.
Despite continuing protests over the deaths of workers on tournament projects, fears that stadia may not be ready on time and a riot at Rio De Janeiro's Copacabana Beach earlier this week, Blatter said he was optimistic that Brazil would put on a "great World Cup".
The divisive soccer administrator said: "There are problems but I have never seen a World Cup where everything was ready before it kicked off. I have been to 10 World Cups and every time there have been worries.
"We are just about one month away from this World Cup and I'm optimistic it will be a great tournament," Blatter said.
Blatter distanced his organisation from the issues and said it was a matter, which only the local authorities could handle.
“They have a problem and we know that but this is not directly a question for Fifa. Fifa tries to help and football can bring a solution,” Blatter said at a brief media conference.
"It is one which the state of Qatar must handle as well as all the construction companies who are responsible for the workers."
At least eight workers have also died in the construction of stadia for the World Cup in Brazil.
Blatter was in town for just a day and was accompanied by Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa. Also at the opening was HKFA president Timothy Fok Tsun-ting and Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, LCSD’s diretor of Leisure and Cultural Services.
The renovation of the HKFA offices was funded under Fifa’s Goal Development Programme.