Qatar's treatment of migrant workers is among the issues being scrutinised in the build-up to this year's FIFA World Cup ©Getty Images

Norwegian Football Association (NFF) President Lise Klaveness condemned the decision to stage this year's men's World Cup in Qatar during today's FIFA Congress, while her criticism of the host nation's record on human rights drew an angry response and passionate defence from Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The NFF has been among the most vocal critics in the build-up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Its players wore t-shirts with the slogan "human rights, on and off the pitch" during qualifiers against Gibraltar and Turkey in March last year, although NFF members stopped short of voting for a boycott last June.

Ultimately, Norway did not qualify for a first men's World Cup since 1998, but Klaveness used the opportunity of the 72nd FIFA Congress at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre to deliver a wide-ranging speech covering concerns over the rights of women, LGBTQ+ individuals and migrant workers in Qatar.

"Our game can inspire dreams and break down barriers but as leaders we must do it right and to the highest standards," the former Norwegian international said.

"Last year, Norway debated boycotting the World Cup in 2022.

"Instead, our members voted at Congress for dialogue and pressure through FIFA as the best way to work for changes.

"Our members do demand change.

"They question the ethics in sport, and insist on transparency.

"They are getting organised and ready to make their voices heard, and we must listen.

"We cannot ignore the calls for change, and how FIFA runs the game has so much to say for how football is perceived in every confederation and in every association.

"FIFA must act as a role model."

Norway's men's national team wore pro-human rights messages before a World Cup qualifier last year ©Getty Images
Norway's men's national team wore pro-human rights messages before a World Cup qualifier last year ©Getty Images

Russia and Qatar were controversially awarded hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups back in 2010, and Klaveness criticised the bidding process.

Dozens of officials involved in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups have since been banned for breaking ethics rules, and in several cases jailed for corruption.

"In 2010 World Cups were awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences," she said.

"Human rights, equality and democracy - the core interests of football - were not in the starting 11 until many years later.

"These basic rights were pressured on to the field as substitutes, mainly by outside voices.

"FIFA has addressed these issues but there is still a long way to go.

"The migrant workers injured or families of those who died in the build-up to the World Cup must be cared for

"FIFA, all of us, must take all necessary measures to really implement change.

"FIFA has recognised its responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights, and now includes human rights criteria for future World Cup hosts.

"It is vital that the current leadership continue wholeheartedly in this way, truly moving from policy to impact.

"There is no room for employers that do not secure the safety of workers, no room for leaders that cannot host the women’s game, no room for hosts that cannot legally guarantee the safety and respect of LGBTQ+ people coming to this theatre of dreams."

More than 95 per cent of Qatar's construction workforce is believed to be comprised of migrant workers from East Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia, and health and safety failures and non-payment of wages are among the allegations laid against the country.

A Guardian report last year found that more than 6,500 labourers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have died in the country since Qatar was controversially awarded the World Cup in 2010, with 37 of these directly linked to the construction of stadiums for the tournament.

In November, Amnesty International reported that progress had stalled over the previous 12 months, with exploitative elements of the kafala system re-emerging.

The Qatari Government claims it has made progress on labour reforms, including a shift away from the kafala system which forced foreign workers to seek their employers' consent to change jobs or leave the country.

Honduran Football Association President Jorge Salomón claimed that the Congress "is not the right forum or the moment or the stage to discuss and analyse these issues".

Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, hit back at Klaveness, accusing the NFF President of not seeking a meeting with organisers before making her remarks at Congress.

"I'd like to express a disappointment," he addressed the room.

"Madame President visited our country and made no request for a meeting, did not attempt to contact us, and did not attempt to engage in dialogue before addressing Congress today.

"I urge everybody - we have always been open for dialogue, we have always welcomed constructive criticism, constructive criticism that is based on discussion, understanding the issues, and understanding the context of the issues and understanding the progress and the facts that are on the ground.

"We have always had the doors open, we will always continue having our doors open, for anybody who wants to understand the issues, who wants to educate themselves before passing any judgement."

Hassan al-Thawadi of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy insisted
Hassan al-Thawadi of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy insisted "we have always welcomed constructive criticism" ©Getty Images

The Qatari official then insisted the country has made noted progress on issues raised by Klaveness.

"We are creating legacy before a ball has even been kicked," Al-Thawadi claimed.

"The International Labour Organization has described Qatar's reforms as historic.

"The International Trade Union Confederation considers Qatar's updated laws as a benchmark for the region.

"The Building and Woodworkers' International has compared the safety standards on World Cup sites as equal to those in Europe or North America.

"Remember that a number of these entities that I have mentioned were at one time outspoken adversaries of ours but through taking time to understand the complexities of the situation on the ground and through a shared commitment to improving lives, those who were once adversaries became allies and partners."

Infantino admitted that "not everything is perfect in Qatar", but argued that "exemplary" work had been conducted.

The FIFA President also confirmed his intention to stand for a third term at next year's Congress.