AUSTRALIA’S national football team, the Socceroos, have become the first World Cup team to protest against host nation Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

The protest is regarding the nations’ human rights record including their treatment of foreign workers and restrictions on the LGBTQI+ community.

The Socceroos released a video message with 16-players reading lines from a collective statement.

“We have learned that the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has resulted in the suffering and the harm of countless of our fellow workers,” the players said in their video, saying that working conditions have improved since the dismantling of the “kafala system,” which allows employers to take away migrants’ passports and not allow them to leave the country.

The players added, however, that the laws for migrant workers still need improvement.

Football Australia subsequently released a separate statement; “the tournament has been associated with suffering for some migrant workers and their families and this cannot be ignored.”

Controversy has reigned since the small nation was awarded the rights to the prestigious tournament, which has retained accusations of corruption and fears of human rights abuse, despite reassurances.

It follows almost two years of consultations between the Socceroos, players’ union, and Football Australia with several global organisations including International Labour Organisation and Amnesty International, organising bodies FIFA and FIFPRO (the global players organisation), and even Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy.

They have even spoken directly to migrant workers on the ground in Qatar.

“Addressing these issues is not easy. And we do not have all the answers,” the Australian players said.

“We stand with FIFPro, the Building and Wood Workers International, and the International Trade Union Confederation, seeking to embed reforms and establish a lasting legacy in Qatar. This must include establishing a migrant resource centre, effective remedy for those who have been denied their rights, and the decriminalisation of all same-sex relationships.

“These are the basic rights that should be afforded to all and will ensure continued progress in Qatar … [and] a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

Despite some progress being made in several issues in the decade since winning hosting rights, the Australians said Qatar hosting the World Cup has “resulted in the suffering and the harm of countless of our fellow workers.”

The exact number of deaths of migrant workers building the stadiums and other major infrastructure for the tournament over the last decade has been fiercely debated.

The tournament’s organising committee has claimed just three migrant workers have died on-site building stadiums. But an independent report from the International Labor Organisation – one of the bodies that briefed the players – found 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 alone, with more than 500 severely injured. Last year, The Guardian reported that over 6,500 workers from five nations (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) died in Qatar between 2010 and mid-2020. It added the total death toll would be significantly higher than that reported figure, given several nations who sent large numbers of workers to Qatar, including Philippines and Kenya, were not included in the data. Many of the deaths are likely linked to the heat and oppressive conditions in Qatar.

But the Socceroos asserted that “These migrant workers who have suffered and not just numbers, like the migrants that have shaped our country and our football, they possess the same courage and determination to build a better life.

“As players we fully support the rights of the LGBTI+ people. But in Qatar people are not free to love the person that they choose,” the national team added, saying they stand with support for various organizations such as Fifpro and the Building and Wood Workers

International helping to create better resources for migrant workers and end the criminalization of same-sex relationships in the country.

“This is how we can ensure a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, one that football can truly be proud of,” the players concluded. The video statement comes after Australia’s soccer players union, Professional Footballers Australia, and Football Australia, the country’s governing body for soccer, also issued letters and statements about Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and stance on LGBTQ rights.

Qatar authorities in August arrested up to 60 migrant workers who protested working conditions and low wages ahead of the World Cup. Advocacy group Equidem told The Associated Press that some detained migrant workers were deported back to their countries.

In response, Qatar’s World Cup organising committee has welcomed the Socceroos raising “important matters” but defended the host nation’s efforts to improve the rights and lives of workers.

Asked to respond a spokesperson for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) said:

“We commend footballers using their platforms to raise awareness for important matters.

“We have committed every effort to ensure 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.

“This is achieved through our commitment to holding contractors accountable via our worker welfare standards, continuous work on enhancing health and safety practices, creating and developing worker representation forums in collaboration with international unions and experts, robust auditing that includes an independent third party monitor, working with contractors to ensure workers who paid recruitment fees are entitled to repayment, and ensuring that these policies lead to a change in work culture that lasts far beyond 2022.”

“The Qatari government’s labour reforms are acknowledged by the ILO, ITUC, and numerous human rights organisations as the benchmark in the region,” the SC spokesperson said.

“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.”

Football Australia urged the energy-rich country to take a softer stance towards same-sex relationships, which are currently illegal in Qatar.

“As the most multicultural, diverse, and inclusive sport in our country, we believe everyone should be able to feel safe and be their true authentic selves,” Football Australia said.

The SC did not respond directly to the Socceroos’ pleas for the legacy of the tournament to include a specialised migrant resource centre and the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships.

Captains from a number of leading European football nations — including England, France and Germany — will wear armbands with rainbow colours and the message “One Love” in an anti-discrimination campaign during the World Cup.

Noted British journalist and television personality Piers Morgan condemned the Socceroos and their video protest.

Morgan questioned the moral extent of the players concerned, believing action is louder than words alone.

“Either go and play football, or don’t go. Pretending you’re outraged by a country’s morality but then actively promoting the country is hypocritical.

“I find the faux moral outrage around ‘sports-washing’ increasingly irritating. If you want to make a moral stand, fine – do it properly & boycott the event/country that offends your morality. Or shut up and play sport.”

Denmark’s football team has also taken a stand against Qatar by fading all the details on their kit.

“We’ve toned down all the details – including our own Hummel logo and chevrons – because even though we love football and the feeling of togetherness it gives us, we don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives,” kit sponsors Hummel said. They also released a black alternative kit as it is the “colour of mourning”. While football superstar David Beckham has controversially accepted a $277 million endorsement deal to promote the Middle Eastern nation, players across the footballing world have spoken out against it.

The world awaits just how successful the tournament will be, not just in terms of football, but as a showcase for equality, tolerance and acceptance.

 

Image via sbs.com.au

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