Qatar World Cup fast approaching but legacy of player mistreatment shouldn’t be forgotten

Zahir Belounis spent a nightmare 19 months trapped in Qatar thanks to his football club not allowing him to exit the country.

The 2022 World Cup is fast approaching in Qatar and the country will host the FIFA Club World Cup in December with the winners of the various confederation Champions League tournaments arriving in the Middle Eastern country.

Despite the excitement surrounding both events, Qatar and its clubs’ treatment of players inside the country, and those who have built the stadiums, shouldn’t be forgotten by football fans.

Zahir Belounis and football club dispute

The likes of former Barcelona midfielder Xavi and Real Madrid attacker Wesley Sneijder both played in Qatar. Their presence in the country paved over the issues and difficulties some players had previously with the country’s football association and clubs.

Zahir Belounis, a French football player who signed with Qatar’s El Jaish in 2007, was held against his will in the country. The Middle Eastern nation adhered to Kafala Law, which meant his club held his visa rights and he could only leave the country if given permission and exit paperwork by the El Jaish.

Under the law, players or residents in Qatar couldn’t leave the country without the permission of their employers. The law kept people in the country against their will and unable to leave. It also gave employers the chance to mistreat and not play employees for decades.

Belounis had to receive an exit visa from El Jaish and until he gained it, he was stuck in the country. Belounis had gone unpaid by El Jaish for some time when he raised the issue with the club. It occurred when he was loaned out to a second division club.

El Jaish refused to pay Belounis and/or to grant him an exit visa so he could leave the country nd play elsewhere. In a vindictive move, El Jaish forced the player to remain in the country. He was trapped along with his young family.

Belounis was forced to sell his possessions due to the financial issues he incurred. He also went into depression and turned to alcohol and later prescription medication to deal with it. In 2013, Belounis was allowed to finally leave Qatar after his story made international news to Qatar’s disappointment. Hoping the issue would go away, Qatar’s sporting officials ignored Belounis until they couldn’t any longer.

Four years later, the player was granted compensation from the Qatari Stars League for his nightmare situation. Not only was Belounis held against his will in Qatar and not paid his wages, but he lost several years of his career.

Belounis’ mental well-being was shattered and following his departure from Qatar, he worked as a waiter in Spain to make ends meet.

The story of Zahir Belounis should not be forgotten as Qatar are set to host the FIFA Club World Cup and the World Cup 2022.

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