By Mike Collett
SWEIMEH Jordan (Reuters) - No construction workers have been killed working on a 2022 World Cup project site, Nasser Al Khater, the media and marketing director of the Qatar organizing committee, said on Tuesday.
Reports of the deaths of immigrant workers in the Gulf State have made global headlines for the last year since a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper, but Al Khater, delivering an update on progress for the finals in eight years' time, sought to put the figures into perspective.
Speaking to delegates at the Soccerex Asian Forum by the banks of the Dead Sea, Al Khater addressed the issues of workers rights under the kafala (tied employment) system used in the country.
"Contrary to what the international media says there has not been a single injury or death on the World Cup projects," he said.
"It's not possible to have 400 deaths when you are still digging a hole in the ground so I would like to make sure this matter is put to rest.
"However, we have taken the issue of workers welfare very seriously and made sure that the highest standards in terms of workers welfare are stated in all our contracts.
"We have always said the World Cup is a catalyst for change and we welcome the spotlight this issue has brought."
Hundreds of construction workers have died in Qatar on non-World Cup projects, but moves are underway to implement major safety changes throughout the country's construction industry.
Al Khater said that only one World Cup stadium was currently under construction and that five would get under way by the end of this year.
He said that "important announcements" would soon be made on the issue of workers' welfare, adding that no firm decisions had yet been made over cutting the number of World Cup stadiums from 12 to eight.
He said this decision would be taken next year and hinted that due to the size of the country, only eight might be used and not 12.
FIFA's rules are that eight is the minimum number for a World Cup.
"There has been a lot of speculation that Qatar has minimized the number of stadiums and some have said it's because of budget cuts," Al Khater said. "That’s not true.
"Given the size of the country, while we propose 12 stadiums, eight are in final preparation. Of those eight, five will be in different phases of construction by end of this year, with the remaining three announced after 2014.
"Then, in 2015 we will decide alongside FIFA how many stadia Qatar really needs.
"We will make sure that the World Cup will represent the Middle East - and that when we welcome the fans they get a taste of the culture and understand that the Middle East is not what is being perceived right now."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)