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Riba gold medal? Qatar World Cup stadium?  And architect Zaha Hadid

The architect Zaha Hadid cut short a tetchy BBC radio interview to mark her being awarded the 2016 Riba Royal Gold Medal after mounting an angry defence of her Qatar World Cup stadium and Tokyo Olympic stadium projects

Architect defends involvement in building of Qatar World Cup stadium after walking out of Radio 4 interview to mark her winning the 2016 Riba gold medal

Architect Zaha Hadid walks out of an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

The British-Iraqi architect claimed there had not been a “single problem in the stadium in Qatar” after Radio 4 Today programme presenter Sarah Montague alleged there had been deaths of construction workers at the Al-Wakrah stadium for the 2022 football World Cup.

“It is absolutely untrue; there are no deaths on our site whatsoever. I sued someone in the press for it. You should check your facts.”

Hadid was challenged about her bid to build the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and walked out of the interview after Montague said the programme was running out of time for her to explain why the project had been abandoned.

Last week it was reported that Hadid had decided not to continue with her bid to build the Tokyo stadium, after her initial design was scrapped amid ballooning costs and the fact that the architect could find no construction company to work with on a new design.

“I didn’t pull out of the Japanese project,” Hadid said, contradicting the premise of Montague’s question. “It’s a very serious story. It’s a scandal. We won this competition three years ago, it was an international competition entered by many Japanese architects and we won it …”

Interrupted by the presenter, who asked Hadid to respond to the allegation that the Japanese prime minister pulled the plug on the stadium because of high costs, Hadid walked out of the interview. “Don’t ask me a question if you don’t want [me] to answer,” she said. “Let’s stop this conversation right now.”

The Qatari government says the figure used by Montague that 1,200 migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010 is categorically untrue.

Human rights groups have used figures showing high numbers of construction workers’ deaths because they say much of Qatar’s current construction boom is motivated by the World Cup, and so they claim deaths on projects such as roads and hotels should be included when monitoring fatalities.

The number of deaths of construction workers who were directly building the Hadid-designed stadium is unknown, but Hadid repeated the Qatari authorities’ line that since work began on the project in 2013, there had been no deaths on site nor any accidents causing lost time.

Hundreds of migrants from Nepal, India and other countries working on other construction projects have been dying every year, including dozens from site accidents and cardiac arrests. But a spokesman for Hadid said “the authorities in Qatar managing the al-Wakrah site operate the highest levels of workers’ health, safety and welfare”.

The BBC later apologised personally to Hadid saying the questions about Qatar were “less than ideal”. “We’re sorry if she feels the programme has treated her badly,” it said. “It’s something we regret.”

It also issued a public statement clarifying that the 1,200 construction deaths refers to the whole of Qatar. “We are sorry we didn’t make this clear in this morning’s interview with Dame Zaha Hadid,” a spokesperson said. “We are happy to accept there is no evidence of deaths at the main stadium site.”

Much of the online reaction to the interview came out in favour of Hadid.




February 2023

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