Why are football teams protesting against Qatar 2022 World Cup?

Ahead of qualifiers, Norway, Germany and Netherlands footballers have protested Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers.

German players staging their protest ahead of kickoff in the World Cup qualifier [Tobias Schwarz/Reuters]

Footballers are staging on-field protests in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers to highlight Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record that have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of next year’s tournament.

A media report published earlier this month alleged that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since 2010 when the country was awarded hosting rights of the 2022 tournament.

Qatar responded by saying that “the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population”.

There have also been protests against harsh working conditions, especially during the summer when temperature often goes past 40C (104F), wage abuse – including on a World Cup stadium site – and lack of rights afforded to migrant workers, who comprise about 95 percent of Qatar’s population.

Qatar’s government told Al Jazeera it has made several reforms over the years around working conditions and labour rights.

Who has protested?

The Netherlands national team wore t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Football supports change”.

Norway players wore shirts stating “HUMAN RIGHTS” and “On and off the pitch”.

The German team lined up in black shirts, each with one white letter to spell out “HUMAN RIGHTS” but its football association said it was opposed to boycotting the World Cup.

Detail view of a t-shirt worn by Norway players during warm-up with a message about human rights prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying match [Fran Santiago/Getty Images]

On Sunday, Denmark players will “dare to make stand in favour of human rights”.

Last week, Amnesty International sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, calling on world football’s governing body to use its leverage with the Qatari authorities to help end the abuse of migrant workers.

What has Qatar’s response been?

In August 2020, Qatar announced landmark changes to the labour law, including scrapping the need for an NOC – employer’s permission to change jobs – that rights activists said tied workers’ presence in the country to their employers and led to abuse and exploitation.

The announcement was the latest in a series of labour reforms carried out by the country in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.

In response to the report earlier this month, Qatar’s World Cup organising committee said it has “always been transparent about the health and safety of workers”.

“Since construction [of stadiums] began in 2014, there have been three work-related fatalities and 35 non-work-related deaths,” a representative said. “The SC [organising committee] has investigated each case, learning lessons to avoid any repeat in the future.”

Earlier this month, Qatar’s Government Communication Office (GCO) told Al Jazeera the country “has made substantial progress on labour reforms and it continues to work with NGOs… to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective”.

“We have improved health and safety standards for workers, strengthened the capacity of labour inspectors… increased the penalties for companies that violate the law,” a recent GCO statement said.

Netherlands players seen wearing ‘Football Supports Change’ t-shirts prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying match [Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]

What has FIFA’s stance been?

FIFA’s disciplinary code states players and federations can face disciplinary action in cases of “using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature”.

However, the organisation said it will not be opening a case against the protests by Germany and Norway players.

“FIFA believes in the freedom of speech and in the power of football as a force for good,” a FIFA spokesperson said.

Last week, Infantino said Qatar has made social progress because of becoming the World Cup host.

What are other players/nations doing?

England manager Gareth Southgate said the English Football Association and Amnesty have been in talks.

Germany midfielder Joshua Kimmich said the boycott calls have come “10 years too late”.

“It wasn’t allocated this year, but a couple of years ago. One should have thought about boycotting back then,” said Kimmich.

“Now we need to take the opportunity and use our publicity to raise awareness about things. But it’s not just down to us footballers … we should work together.”

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said it would be a mistake for teams to boycott the World Cup in the wake of player protests.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies