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We asked every nation at the World Cup their views on Qatar – here’s what they said – The Athletic


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In a video released last week, Australia became the first World Cup 2022 team to collectively address host nation Qatar’s human rights record.

The film — created by the Australian players’ association, rather than its FA — raises concerns about the “suffering” of migrant workers and called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

In doing so, Australia became the first national team to publicly make that final demand.

In Qatar, homosexuality is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

This month’s World Cup, which is controversial for the reasons outlined in this article, has also been criticised by human rights activists owing to the deaths of thousands of migrant workers since the country was awarded the right to host the tournament in 2010.

However, an investigation by The Athletic has revealed that only two of the 32 World Cup nations — Belgium and Denmark — are publicly backing Australia’s call for Qatar to decriminalise homosexuality.

The Athletic wrote to every World Cup nation asking whether they supported Australia’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and if they were also planning a video to speak out about workers and LGBT+ rights. 

Homosexuality is illegal in eight of the 32 countries — Qatar, Senegal, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon and Ghana. 

Of the 31 nations, 11 provided The Athletic with detailed responses.

However, only Denmark and Belgium described themselves as “fully aligned” with Australia on all issues, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality. 

A spokesperson for the Royal Belgian Football Association said: “We embrace all initiatives taken by the different football associations to support human rights. It is not our aim to make such a video with our Belgian Red Devils, but the position of our federation, our players and our staff members is exactly the same as that of Australia.”

The Danish FA (DBU) added: “The DBU does not agree with the decision to place the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. We have not voted for it and we think it is deeply controversial. Through critical dialogue and presence in Qatar, DBU will take an active co-responsibility for creating better conditions for migrant workers who work with the running of the World Cup in Qatar.

“In other words — we have had the same opinions, statements and actions as those from Australia.”

The Denmark kit, manufactured by Hummel, protests against the location of the tournament, camouflaging both the Hummel and DFB badge because both “do not wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives”. 

When asked by The Athletic, several other countries pointed to their membership of the UEFA Working Group, a collective of nations who are publicly calling for a migrant compensation fund and the construction of a migrant workers’ centre in Qatar. 

First suggested by the president of the Swiss Football Association, it currently includes the Netherlands, England, the United States, Wales, France, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Canada and Switzerland (with Portugal and Spain independently aligned). 

The UEFA Working Group set FIFA and Qatar a target of October 31 to update them on plans for migrant worker support and ask for assurances “that all fans, including those from LGBT+ communities, will be welcome”. An update is expected in the coming days. 

However, while several nations’ captains will wear an anti-discrimination “OneLove” armband in support of LGBT+ rights at the tournament, the Working Group stop short of explicitly calling for decriminalisation. 

Craig Foster is a former captain of Australia, who has become a human rights activist since retirement. He works as an ambassador for both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch alongside his football punditry role.

Referring to the Australian video, which involved 16 of their players, Foster told The Athletic: “The Australian players’ statement should be coming out of FIFA and every federation in the world. But political and economic pressure has clearly led to what are watered-down statements of support about ‘anti-discrimination’ and ‘togetherness’. The Australia statement stands out because it is perfectly consistent with the requirements FIFA have under their own human rights policy. 

“Many federations and players have spoken out about the migrant resource centre. That’s laudable, but there’s no risk in doing so. But to hold FIFA and the Supreme Committee (the Qatari body responsible for building and delivering this World Cup’s infrastructure) to account for the harm that’s already occurred and to call for remedy — that’s difficult. 

“It’s an absolute credit to the courage of the players because they are clearly pushing back against the prevailing sporting culture and that takes tremendous courage.”

Pride Football Australia, a group promoting LGBT+ issues in the sport, tweeted: “The first nation to speak out. But hopefully not the last.”

Australia start their World Cup campaign against defending champions France on November 22 and then play Tunisia and Denmark in their other Group D fixtures.

Some World Cup-bound players and coaches have spoken out publicly.

For example, Portugal manager Fernando Santos has appeared in a powerful video for Amnesty, while his Brazil counterpart Tite has publicly expressed his support for remedies to be paid for workers — a position which has not been backed up by the Brazilian FA. 

Other federations — such as those in Japan and Croatia — told The Athletic that while they are concerned over human rights, they trust FIFA’s assurances that will lead to “the resolution of social issues”.

Twenty-one nations did not respond to The Athletic’s questions at all. 

For Foster, federations need to go further. 

“We’re seeing largely symbolic statements and performative slogans and little direct solidarity,” he explains. “The entire game is bound to internationally-recognised human rights, which means non-discrimination on the bounds of sexuality. There is no wiggle room here. 

“It’s not acceptable for the game to limit its advocacy on the basis that it’s going to make Qatar uncomfortable or FIFA uncomfortable. People talk about the Qatari culture and say, ‘Well, you should respect the culture’. Football doesn’t have to respect culture, it has to respect human rights, it’s very different.

“But at the moment, global football is trying to draw a line in the sand to make Qatar feel more comfortable.”

Foster is not optimistic that other teams — except Belgium and Denmark — will also go the route Australia have taken:

“I’m hoping other teams will follow this lead — but I’m not expecting it, given the short timeframe, and the political and economic pressures that players and clubs and administrators are under around the world.

“But what I am pleased about is that the Australian team has set a standard here for the future of athlete advocacy and football. This is the standard that we need to see from every team at future World Cups and, in fact, right across the game.”

In response to the allegations made in Australia’s video, Qatar’s organising committee said: “We commend footballers using their platforms to raise awareness for important matters. We have committed every effort to ensuring that this World Cup has had a transformative impact on improving lives, especially for those involved in constructing the competition and non-competition venues we’re responsible for.

“Protecting the health, safety, security, and dignity of every worker contributing to this World Cup is our priority.

“The Qatari government’s labour reforms are acknowledged by the International Labour Organisation, International Trade Union Confederation and numerous human rights organisations as the benchmark in the region. New laws and reforms often take time to bed in and robust implementation of labour laws is a global challenge, including in Australia.

“No country is perfect and every country — hosts of major events or not — has its challenges. This World Cup has contributed to a legacy of progress, better practice, and improving lives — and it’s a legacy that will live long after the final ball is kicked.”

FIFA has also been approached for comment.

How do you feel about the Qatar World Cup? Take our reader survey.

(Main graphic by Eamonn Dalton)

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