Europe needs to shoulder far more responsibility for the exploitation of migrant labourers building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said on Friday.

The head of football’s governing body said the majority of companies working in Qatar on World Cup projects were European and they should make sure that their employees were properly housed and cared for.

“We deplore what has happened there but the big companies are mostly from European countries and if you are a construction company you are responsible for your workers,” Blatter told a press conference in Rome, after a meeting with the Pope.

In a report released this week, Amnesty International said migrant labourers in Qatar were being treated like “animals”.

Blatter said European countries, particularly Germany and France, had lobbied hard for the World Cup to be awarded to Qatar because of “economic interests”, so those nations should take a greater interest in the conditions of workers, most of them from South Asia.

“The Europeans are unhappy but European politicians and the heads of state of those two countries [France and Germany] should express what they think about this situation. It should not all be down to Fifa.” He said Fifa was “monitoring” Qatar’s response to criticism that workers are being exploited, paid low wages and live in unsanitary conditions.

In Zurich on Wednesday Blatter said that the conditions of workers were “unacceptable”, calling on the energy-rich emirate to take concrete steps to address the issue by March.

He said it was likely that the World Cup would be moved from the scorching hot summer months of June and July to the cooler winter months of November and December.

“We’re consulting with teams, players and federations about the calendar, but also the TV and marketing people. I think it would be advisable to play at the end of the year.”

Blatter earlier had an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, along with members of the Italy and Argentina rugby teams, as the Holy See makes greater efforts to embrace the world of sport.

“It was a meeting of two football fans,” Blatter said of the encounter with the Pope, who is a passionate supporter of the Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo.

The Pope asked Fifa to help improve living standards in the favelas or slums of Brazilian cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo ahead of next year’s World Cup.

“We will do what we can but we cannot do everything,” said Blatter.

He was unrepentant about controversial remarks he made recently about Cristiano Ronaldo, in which he likened the Portuguese player to a “commander” on the pitch and said he spent too much time at the hairdresser.

“I do not regret what I said about Ronaldo. I said he’s an exceptional player, he commands the pitch,” said Mr Blatter. 

Photo Credit: FIFA President Sepp Blatter addresses the media in Zurich. Arnd Weigmann / Reuters