Since the 2010 announcement to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, there has been increasing concern about the responsibility FIFA holds in regards to ensuring the countries chosen do not violate human rights laws. The choice for Qatar to host the World Cup next year is particularly controversial due to the consistent labour abuse of migrant workers in the country.
In preparation for the World Cup, Qatar has employed mainly men and women from Africa and Asia to build infrastructure such as a stadium, hotels, a new airport, roads, and even a new city. In 2010, when the tournament was revealed to be hosted in Qatar, FIFA was already aware of the working conditions of migrant workers since the labour abuse in the region had already been extensively documented.
Working conditions for migrant workers were extremely poor, with workers having to wait months for their salaries as well as having to work excessive hours in dangerous environments with little safety equipment. 6500 migrant workers have died since the announcement of the world cup. Workers are prohibited from unionising and struggle to access justice; many are deprived of the freedom of movement once they enter Qatar. In addition, the Covid-19 Pandemic has led to heavy debts from recruitment fees as well as unsanitary and crowded labour accommodation.
Amnesty International has reached out to football fans and clubs, as well as Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA, directly calling attention to the mistreatment of migrant workers and FIFA’s failure to take responsibility for its involvement.
There has been an increasing number of responses from European clubs, among those responding are:
One of the first to react, the Norwegian team wore T-shirts that read ‘Human rights on and off the pitch’ before their game against Gibraltar. Wearing political, religious, or personal slogans is against FIFA’s rules for the game. However, FIFA commented that they would not be penalising Norway for their protest.
Germany joined Norway in their protest by wearing T-shirts that read ‘HUMAN RIGHTS’ before their game against Iceland. Despite this display of support for human rights, the German Football Association (DFB) stated that they will not be boycotting the World Cup in Qatar instead commenting that they support their players since it reflects their commitment to democratic values.
In Denmark, a petition was created calling for the country’s national football team to boycott the World Cup finals in Qatar. If the petition manages to achieve 50,000 signatures by the 8th of June, Denmark’s national parliament will have to debate the country’s participation in the World Cup. However, debate alone does not mean Denmark will withdraw from the World Cup. Arbejdernes Landsbank, the bank that sponsors the Danish team’s training gear does not want to be associated with the tournament, yet the Danish Football Union has stated that they do not back the boycott but rather that they want to enter ‘dialogue’ with Qatar.
Similar to the German and Norwegian protests, the Netherlands national team wore T-shirts bearing the words ‘Football supports change’ before their game against Latvia. At another game the shirts read ‘Norway, Germany, Next?’, calling for support from other football clubs. However, despite the protest, The Dutch FA stated that it would not boycott the World Cup but instead would “use the current spotlight on the World Cup and make our own contribution to efforts to improve the plight of migrant workers in Qatar”.
When asked about a possible boycott, Belgium’s manager Roberto Martínez commented that he believes it would be a “big mistake”, going on to say that “Boycotting is the easy escape. What we need to do is make sure that we all participate and make it a successful World Cup. And then, from that point, make sure that change is there”.
Liverpool has supported campaigns highlighting the deaths of migrant workers, and have refused to stay in one of the hotels provided by FIFA on moral grounds. England’s manager Gareth Southgate commented that the English FA and Amnesty International have been in talks, however there is no mention of boycotting the World Cup.
While more and more clubs are speaking out against the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, most of the protests seem to be gestures alone. Despite FIFA’s history of questionable hosts and competitions, this is the first time any real attention has been called to the issue.
Withdrawing from the World Cup would also have consequences for the club. FIFA’s regulations state that withdrawing 30 days before the first match would lead to a fine of 20,000 Swiss Francs and Sub-section 3 of article 6 states that “the FIFA Disciplinary Committee may impose additional disciplinary measures”. Furthermore, the regulations detail that withdrawing clubs could be liable to pay FIFA for any damages. This could include damages to businesses linked to FIFA and the World Cup such as Qatar Airways (which is sponsoring the World Cup), Standard Chartered, or Wanda. Sanctions for clubs could go as far as the ability to sign players.
The web of businesses and influences surrounding FIFA is what makes it so difficult for clubs to take direct action. However, for real change to be made for migrant workers in Qatar, football clubs must do more than just pay lip service to current issues and ‘enter dialogue’. It is important for clubs to not only acknowledge Qatar’s human rights abuses but also to recognise that FIFA as an organisation has knowingly partaken in the exploitation of migrant workers.