FIFA will surely fear an 11th hour boycott of Qatar

FOOTBALL can be a peculiar game. On one hand, people get outraged about the most trivial of matters and are ready to appoint scapegoats, sack managers and jeer opponents, yet the really serious issues are often ignored.

With less than six months before the controversial Qatar World Cup, there’s no sign of a concerted protest or plan of action to demonstrate the global disgust at the Gulf state’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers.

Players talk of using a “platform” to send their message, but in truth, there is probably not a single player who would sacrifice the chance to play in the World Cup. The lack of cojones is incredible. Whatever happened to the days of non-aggressive action, where key athletes boycotted the Olympics and countries made a stand?

Premier League players are still taking the knee, still wearing rainbows on their sleeve and declaring their affiliation with just causes. That’s not to criticise their feelings on major topics, but while they will show their support for as nation that has been invaded and violated, they will also quickly line-up to align themselves with the military.

Qatar 2022, as a World Cup, is already tainted beyond belief. The process of awarding the competition in the first place, the state’s politics and social climate, which goes against so many of football’s values and aspirations, and not to mention the environment, make it an inappropriate venue. We all know the score by now.

The hypocrisy goes on; some of the Welsh national team’s staff have openly stated they will not go to Qatar, yet the team will not boycott the event, using that word “platform” as a ticket for non-action. In all probability, and this also applies to England, it would seem probable that the teams will be visible in their messaging other than a carefully-scripted letter full of platitudes and the bleeding obvious. Interestingly, some sponsors of national teams – such as Belgium and Netherlands, have take away their support.

Today, the prospect of a nation acting alone to express its concern is unlikely, but what would happen if a major country did withdraw? It could be a case of a collapsing deck of cards. Why? Because if, for example, Germany decided not to go, any team remaining on the aeroplane would be seen as supporters of Qatar. It would become contagious, with other countries following the example led by that first withdrawal.

Regardless of political stance, the situation in Qatar cannot possibly be seen in any way; acceptable. Amnesty International is calling for FIFA to contribute to workers’ compensation from the proceeds of the competition. When you consider the amount spent on the World Cup some (US$ 200 billion) and the total FIFA anticipates to generate (US$ 6 billion), then the call for around US$ 400 million to make its way to compensation deals seems reasonable.

Let’s not forget how difficult life can be for migrant workers in Qatar. “We work from January to January, Sunday to Sunday. No days off. If you absent yourself, they will deduct two or more days wages,” said one worker.

This is just one example of the hard-line regime. But in this age of increasing acceptance and inclusion, Qatar still lags behind. Homosexuality is illegal and can earn you seven years imprisonment, women are supressed in many ways and are effectively punished for divorce by having their children taken out of their care and freedom of expression is prohibited.

Against this backdrop, it is not only teams that should swerve clear of Qatar, supporters should also consider the wisdom of attending the World Cup. If they have values and believe in freedom of speech and personal choice, they should think again. Many will not, of course and will pour money into an economy that is built on slave labour, discrimination and autocracy. When we will ever learn?

World Cup draw fails to excite

THE GOLDEN goose is dead, laying on a lakeside in Switzerland or maybe in a desert somewhere. The ghost of World Cups past, with a number 16 on its heavily-sponsored back, tries to warn the stricken bird, but it is too late, FIFA’s premier competition is on the point of exploding, fattened by gavage, choked by excess.

We’ve long known that the World Cup was getting out of hand, but the draw for Qatar 2022 demonstrated just how uninteresting a 32-team format really is. The recipe is simple: 1 seeded nation, carefully shaken and garnished; add a team of nearly men; throw in a hopeful but be careful of the mix; and then to top it off, a makeweight for some artificial colour. That’s what makes a group for the World Cup finals. 

The media desperately tries to find a group of death every time there’s a draw, but it is getting harder and harder. Football has become a game with few shocks these days, be it club football or the international game. England came out with a weak group although nobody wanted to use that word, preferring to call it, “intriguing” or “satisfactory”.

Like the Champions League, the interest only starts to bubble in the World Cup when the group stage is out of the way. For two weeks, the ritual 1-0 or 2-0 slaughtering of weaker sides takes place while the TV pundits, still stuck in a 1970 paradigm, try to persuade us that “watching Brazil is all samba and soccer”. They talk up the preliminaries when by the time the third round of matches is upon us, we have had enough of David v Goliath narratives.

The draw, a prolonged and unnecessary ceremony which really isn’t a case of shaking-up the balls as they just spin around in plastic dishes, was tedious beyond belief. The Avatar-type presenters (including the incredibly rising Jermaine Jenas), were perfectly groomed and scripted. 

While they (pundits, presenters and contracted ambassadors) kept telling us Qatar is a beautiful country (it may well be) and that fans will have a wonderful time if they attend, it was difficult to get out of your mind this is a far from ideal situation. Miguel Delaney of the Independent got it right when he said: “Tantalising World Cup draw adds first layer of gloss to Qatar’s morally bankrupt tournament”.

FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino tried to bring statesmanship into the occasion, calling for leaders to get together to resolve the war in Ukraine while claiming 2022 would see the greatest World Cup of them all as the world becomes united in Qatar. Such naivety really explains why FIFA are in such a mess, losing support and credibility by the tournament. Football has, due to its insatiable appetite for cash at all costs, sold its soul, courting regimes and leaders with very questionable human rights records. Instead of promoting a clean-up of the game, FIFA instead prefers to justify its decision-making process.

And so Qatar continues to divide opinion, but there can be no question some football people do feel uncomfortable about 2022. Will they do anything about it? Let’s not forget that British football has been making gestures for the past few years about issues it feels strongly about, such as taking the knee. The background to the BLM-prompted action came from the problems in the US. In Qatar, society is deeply divided and racism, sexism and homophobia are rife, but we don’t see it across our screens. And yet, this hasn’t moved football to show its displeasure on a grand scale apart from wearing t-shirts of protest. Real action demands brave and unselfish displays, and that would include refusing to support Qatar 2022. Anyone with a social conscience or knowledge of the politics and social climate should find it hard to align themselves to this particular World Cup. The financial benefits are obvious, but did FIFA ever ask itself if awarding hosting rights to Qatar was the right thing to do? 

Boycott Qatar 2022? Now may be the time

ENGLAND and assorted others have now qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. No matter how big the PR budgets are, nobody is ever going to be over-convinced about the suitability of Qatar as a host. Two years on from the 2019 film made by Gary Neville, it’s still hard to be assured that “this could be a great World Cup”. 

England players take the knee before every game these days and they want to make a point, be it political or social. How, then, can they seriously travel to the Middle East to take part in a World Cup staged in a state that has a notorious human rights record? It is all very well issuing statements that the squad will review their position on Qatar before they go to the World Cup, but these are hollow gestures. If footballers want to be taken seriously, they have to show their displeasure at FIFA awarding Qatar the competition.

If any of the major countries withdrew, it could trigger a mass exodus. Let’s be frank, if one nation does it, the others will feel they have to follow otherwise they risk being seen as a supporter. That might not be the case, but the modern way, be it socially, politically, emotionally or financially, is “you’re either with us or against us”. They should all ask themselves, “would I visit Qatar on my own free will?” and the answer would probably be “I doubt it”.

There’s no question that Qatar will include some spectacular stadiums, state-of-the-art facilities, high technology and anything a fan would need, apart from freely-available alcohol. The fan parks will fill that need to some extent, but it does seem as though a couple of weeks in Qatar will come with lots of caveats.

The employment reforms promised in Qatar have, apparently stalled according to a report from Amnesty International, with thousands of migrant workers still victims of exploitation. The notorious Kafala system, which binds workers to their employer, continues to hold a huge influence. Workers have also had problems getting paid and have suffered from employers cancelling their residency permits.

Mark Dummett of Amnesty said: “Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, but its economy depends on the two million migrant workwers who live there…. By sending a clear signal that labour abuses will not be tolerated, penalising employers who break laws and protecting workers’ rights, Qatar could stage a tournament that we can all celebrate, but this has yet to be achieved.”

Amnesty is calling on Qatar to push through the full range of reforms it committed to implement and hold the perpetrators of worker abuse to account. As for FIFA, the governing body should conduct appropriate due diligence on human rights.

Interestingly, FIFA and the World Cup has its usual palette of high profile partners: Adidas, Coca-Coila, VISA, Hyundai and Macdonalds to name but a few. How do they feel about being associated with a competition that has been tainted since day one?

With this grubby backdrop, how can players who have [rightly] shown their intolerance of racism go to Qatar and help such a regime make World Cup 2022 a success? Moreover, how can they support FIFA for its somewhat dubious process of awarding the competition to them in the first place? The hypocrisy is really quite appalling and shows that football will easily elbow morality in the face if it is convenient.

Can an eleventh hour solution of some sort be found? If Qatar, for example, renounced its approach and proclaimed the World Cup as the start of something new, a sea change in the country’s social and political structure, that might help. But those that intend to go to the World Cup should ask themselves, do you care what happens in Qatar when the bunting comes down and the propaganda stops? In 1936, not everyone knew what was happening in Hitler’s Germany when the Olympics were held in Berlin, but in our time, we are aware of almost everything and therefore, to ignore is merely adopting the ostrich mentality.