How far will players go to expose Qatar? Footballers are under pressure, but the Gulf State is paying bills
Qatar’s propaganda machine is gaining momentum as the World Cup qualifiers it somehow managed to win are underway. “Kindness and generosity – it’s a way of life,” they proclaim on the Qatar 2022 website.
Tell that to the family of Zac Cox, the Briton who died in 2017 on a woefully inadequate construction site at Khalifa International Stadium. Qatar – and FIFA – declined to disclose details of what they say was an ‘investigation’ into the 40-year-old’s death.
Tell Nirmala Pakrin, the young widow of a scaffold builder who works on the lavish Education City Stadium. Her husband Rupchandra Rumba died of what authorities say was a heart attack “of natural causes,” although there has been no investigation to confirm this. Ms Pakrin has received no answer at all, just £ 1,300 in compensation for her husband’s life.
Holland (above) is the latest team to take a stand against the human rights record in Qatar
As you get past the glossy exterior that Qatar likes to parade in 2022, it’s perhaps no surprise that migrant lives have been lost there: 6,500 in the decade since the World Cup was won, according to a recent study.
It was the grim, unvarnished reality that the Mail on Sunday witnessed when we reported from Al-Sheehaniya workers’ camp, ten miles outside of Doha in 2019. We saw ten Indian men crammed into a smelly room with children’s beds for beds. And workers like Abdurrahman a few floors below cooked on rudimentary appliances because there were no catering facilities.
These godforsaken souls are no less a part of Qatar’s furious World Cup construction work than stadium builders – because the roads, bridges and metro stations they build will be as integral to Qatar 2022 as the football palaces.
Zac and Rupchandra and Abdurrahman are the reason why the Norwegian team was wearing T-shirts on Wednesday before their game in Gibraltar with the message ‘human rights – on and off the field’. A lead followed by Germany when they played against Iceland in Duisburg the next evening. Both teams avoided FIFA fining them for making political statements by not openly referring to Qatar. But players like Leon Goretzka from Germany spelled it out.
Norway kicked off the protests on Wednesday by demanding human rights on and off the field
One of those wearing the Norwegian T-shirts was Erling Haaland, who rave reviews about Aspetar Hospital in Qatar three months ago after visiting for treatment for a hip injury.
But how far do other footballers want to go? We are coming out of a lockdown where they have found a voice and used their strength to enforce change. On Friday, Marcus Rashford spoke with his Child Food Poverty Taskforce to learn more about the dire salaries of Deliveroo employees. Deliveroo is an English sponsor.
But as welcome and vital are statements about zero hourly wages and the plight of children who become infertile, they may be, they do not involve risk. Taking on Qatar involves biting a hand that feeds football.
One of those wearing the Norwegian T-shirts was Erling Haaland, who praised the Aspetar hospital in Qatar three months ago after a visit to the hospital for treatment of a hip injury. According to an Amnesty report, the hospital was at the center of human rights violations.
After Bayern Munich won the Club World Cup in Doha last month, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was asked why he hadn’t challenged Qatar’s welfare record. “It is all too easy to say: here comes the great Bayern Munich, he points the finger and says you have to adjust your human rights,” he replied. The sponsors of Bayern with shirt sleeves are Qatar Airways. The club has held training camps there since 2011.
Belgium also has a complicated relationship with Qatar. The sponsorship by the Gulf State of the Belgian top team KAS Eupen is intended to create a crèche for its players.
A letter from the Royal Belgium FA to FIFA last week demanded supervision of new labor laws in Qatar.
English players like Kane are willing to answer questions on this topic
Gareth Southgate made it clear this weekend that he has no problem with players speaking out
English players – Harry Kane on Saturday, like John Stones in midweek – are willing to answer questions on this topic, although the first steps are preliminary. Stones says the squad “definitely wants to talk about it.” Kane says that “it would be a great conversation to have between the players.” And after that conversation? “I’m sure there will be a solution,” says Kane.
England wearing T-shirts would also make a real statement. For Norway’s home game against Turkey on Saturday, Haaland and teammates wore updated versions of their human rights T-shirts, with check marks next to the names of Norway and Germany and the question: Next?
Gareth Southgate made it clear this weekend that he has no problem with players speaking out. “We have an adult environment,” he said. ‘We want well-rounded people who have an opinion.’
He is well aware of the controversy involved. “What happens, of course, is we are asked for an opinion, we give an honest, balanced answer and then we get slammed,” he continued. But there will be no public opposition to players who make their feelings felt.
A outright boycott of Qatar 2022 will not happen. Nations will not risk the exclusion from the tournament in 2026 that could result. But players have the power to bring about change that even Amnesty International can only dream of.
“The word ‘dialogue’ is vague and cowardly,” said Norwegian coach Stale Solbakken after his team’s protest. ‘There must be pressure. Immediate steps must be taken to improve things. We can do things the world could see. ‘