Explained: Qatar World Cup protests – Will teams boycott the competition and how has FIFA reacted?

Ahead of England’s final 2022 World Cup qualification match, England defender Conor Coady has insisted that Gareth Southgate’s side will not travel to Qatar next year ignorant of the human rights criticisms that surround the country.

Qatar has been heavily condemned by organizations such as Amnesty International over the way migrant workers have been treated during the construction of facilities for the tournament in 2022.

A number of current England players, including Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, have been praised for the social conscience they have shown in relation to various matters in recent years and Coady has said he does not think the Qatar question will be avoided.

“First and foremost a conversation hasn’t been had yet,” he said ahead of Monday’s match against San Marino. “We’ve always said to ourselves over the last year that the most important thing is to get to where we want to be, which is to Qatar, and honestly speak about the situation when the time is right.”

Other leading European nations and their footballers have increasingly found a voice in the last six months, delivering strong messages to improve human rights in Qatar.

Here, The Athletic analyzes the state of play ahead of the 2022 World Cup.


Why are teams protesting against the Qatar World Cup?

The decision in December 2010 to name Qatar as host of next year’s World Cup has been a source of controversy ever since and an alarmingly poor human rights record in the subsequent construction of eight new stadiums has only heightened misgivings.

UK newspaper The Guardian reported in February that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar over the decade since it was awarded the tournament. Many of these deaths are said to have been related to working in extreme heat.

Amnesty International has called it a “World Cup of Shame” and alleged there have been cases of forced labor and exploitation.

Qatar refutes that and maintains “significant progress” has been made, owing to a labor reform programme. That, though, has failed to silence critical voices.

Migrants make up the vast majority of Qatar’s workforce and have been vital in building the eight stadiums and other facilities for a tournament that begins in just over 14 months’ time. Qatar, with a population of less than three million, has long been reliant on foreign hands but the working conditions and rights afforded to them have Consistently created deep reservations.


Which teams have staged protests?

The most vocal nation in opposition to a Qatar World Cup has been Norway.

A group of top-flight Norwegian clubs, backed by their supporters, proposed a boycott of next year’s event. “This is more than just sport,” Trond Haukvik, chairman of Odd in the southern city of Skien, told The Athletic in March. “This is more about the soul of football.”

With qualifying underway, a formal vote was taken in June on whether Norway should boycott Qatar but only 121 of 489 delegates of the Norwegian FA’s federal parliament offered the proposals their support.

All the while, the players from the national team, who would be the ones competing in Qatar if they manage to qualify, have continued to make a stand.

They wore T-shirts carrying the slogan “Human rights, on and off the pitch” ahead of their first World Cup qualifying game in March and there was a banner held up by players that read “Fair play for migrant workers” before facing the Netherlands in Oslo. Norway supporters also displayed their own protest banners in the stands.

And they have not been alone.

Norway’s Scandinavian neighbors Denmark have taken a similarly disapproving stance in the last 12 months.

Their national team coach Kasper Hjulmand has said any player who declines to play at the World Cup in Qatar, if they qualify, would have his support and, in March, Denmark’s players warmed up for their first home qualifier against Moldova wearing T-shirts that read “Football supports change” .

Earlier this year, Sweden’s football federation meanwhile canceled plans for a training camp in Qatar in January after several Swedish clubs expressed concern about the World Cup host’s human rights record.

European powerhouses Germany and the Netherlands also made their feelings clear in the spring.

German players lined up shoulder to shoulder before a qualifier against Iceland wearing shirts printed with individual letters that spelled out “Human rights”.

“We have the World Cup coming up and there will be discussions about it,” said midfielder Leon Goretzka. “We wanted to show we are not ignoring that. We wrote the letters ourselves. We have a large reach and we can use it to set an example for the values ​​we want to stand for.”

The Dutch made it clear they have no intention of boycotting a Qatar World Cup but wore the same T-shirts as their Danish counterparts before facing Latvia in their first home qualifier in March. “Qatar is where we’d like to become world champions,” they said in a statement. “But not without looking outside the box. That’s why we use our football for change.”

FIFA do not allow political statements but chose not to penalize any of the nations involved. “FIFA believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good,” it said. “No disciplinary proceedings in relation to this matter will be opened by FIFA.”

Germany, Qatar, FIFA World Cup


German players pose to create the phrase “Human rights” before their World Cup tie with Iceland in March (Photo: Tobias Schwarz/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Will there be protests from the home nations?

There has nothing visible as yet.

At the time when Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany were championing human rights in March, the Football Association said England‘s players would discuss what action they would take — if any — ahead of the next round of World Cup qualifiers.

The FA did also write to FIFA president Gianni Infantino then, voicing its concerns and calling for “urgent and concrete action”.

“We are in regular contact with Amnesty International, who are keeping us informed of developments, and also with FIFA, other member associations and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office,” an FA spokesperson said.

Coady has said conversations have not been had within the squad because they have been focusing on ensuring the team qualifies for the tournament. But he added that he expected discussions would take place soon.

Coady said: “First and foremost a conversation hasn’t been had yet.

“Obviously we are seeing quite a lot that is in the news at the minute, I think there is a lot more out in the news and problems in Qatar.

“But with us we’ve always said that we make sure we do our job first, we make sure we try to get to that competition as quickly and as positively as we can. Then I’m sure the conversation will be had with the players.

“I think an incredible thing that comes out of this England squad is that people try to make a difference all the time, and that is constantly happening with people in the squad. People are trying to use that platform.

“If there is any way players can help going forward and help in different situations, I am sure us as players, and us as part of the England set-up, will try to do that.

“Of course we are obviously seeing things, we are not robots, we are humans, we are seeing things in the news that are going on every day and we are seeing things that are going on at the minute.

“But I think we’ve always said to ourselves over the last year that the most important thing is to get to where we want to be, which is to Qatar, and honestly speak about the situation when the time is right.”


What has the response been from FIFA and Qatar?

Qatar has always been able to rely upon FIFA for its support and that shows no sign of changing. The game’s world governing body, in fact, believes taking the World Cup to the tiny state has been an “important catalyst” for change there.

“Since the FIFA World Cup was awarded to Qatar, it has to be recognized that there has been significant progress in the matter of labor rights and standards in the country, and these reforms go far wider than anything to do with football or the tournament, ” FIFA said in a statement given to The Athletic in March.

Infantino has consistently banged the drum that working conditions and human rights have improved in Qatar but there is an acceptance that there is still scope for improvement. “We know there is still work to be done but we need to recognize the significant progress achieved in a very short time,” said Infantino in May.

Qatar also says it has done more to improve conditions for its workers than any other country in the Arabian Gulf region, and contests the high estimates of worker deaths.

“Since construction began in 2014, there have been three work-related fatalities and 35 non-work-related deaths,” a spokesman for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy claimed in a statement in March.

FIFA, Gianni Infantino, Qatar


FIFA president Gianni Infantino views the construction of the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar in 2018 (Photo: Qatar 2022 Local Organizing Committee /Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

What is Amnesty International’s stance on the protests and the World Cup?

If FIFA’s support of Qatar has been unrelenting, the pressure has been applied by Amnesty International.

The independent organization strives to end abuse of human rights and has shone the spotlight on Qatar for the last decade.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International published a new report titled In the Prime of Their Lives, which alleges the deaths of thousands of migrant workers in Qatar were not investigated.

“When relatively young and healthy men die suddenly after working long hours in extreme heat, it raises serious questions about the safety of working conditions in Qatar,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice.

A spokesperson for the Qatari government said they “do not support or agree with the position Amnesty has taken against Qatar”.


Are they going to change anything?

It’s certainly too late for the next World Cup to be played anywhere other than Qatar. FIFA has gone too far down the road to turn back now.

The hope, however, is that a continued application of pressure, whether through teams or FAs, will have a lasting impact.

Uefa established a working group with FIFA in May and has sent delegates to visit Qatar.

Gijs de Jong, part of UEFA’s visiting team, said: “It is clear that Qatar has made significant positive progress with human rights legislation in the last three years. The challenge is the legislation is not yet universally adopted, and… there is a need for further work.”

Further visits are planned before the tournament begins next November.

(Top photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)

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