Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk said players were “not blind or deaf” to the concerns about migrant workers, whose treatment has been in the spotlight in the build-up to the World Cup in Qatar.
Van Dijk and the rest of the squad met around 20 workers at the end of Thursday’s training session in Doha, signing autographs and playing small-sided games of football with them.
“It’s something we all wanted as a group. That’s why we started this process and it was good to meet each one of them and get to know them a little bit,” said Van Dijk, the Dutch captain.
“You don’t have lots of time but you have small conversations and it gives us the energy because they’re so positive to meet us. For us it was exactly the same.”
The build-up to the tournament in Qatar has been dominated by concerns over the Gulf state’s treatment of the workers, women and the LGBTQ community.
Rights groups and media reports say thousands of workers may have died on the huge construction sites. The government calls the claims “outrageous and offensive”, and says it is considering “legal” action to defend the country’s name.
“Obviously we’re not blind, we’re not deaf,” said Van Dijk.
“We see all the news outlets saying so many things about what’s going on over here, so for us it’s good to have our own opinion.
“We have to look ourselves and meet people. It’s not easy because at the end of the day it’s all about playing football. For us it was a big thing and a big point to meet them.”
The Dutch football federation plans to auction the shirts the team will wear at the World Cup and use the proceeds “to improve the situation of migrant workers in Qatar”.