FIFA urges World Cup teams to ‘focus on the football’ in Qatar

FIFA asks participating nations to reserve judgement in the face of protests over LGBTQ issues and migrant worker rights.

Infantino - Qatar
FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the Doha Exhibition & Convention Centre in April 2022 [File: Ibraheem al-Omari/Reuters]

The international football governing body has sent a letter to all 32 World Cup teams, urging them to “focus on the football” in Qatar and not let the sport “be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists”.

The letter from FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Secretary-General Fatma Samoura follows a number of protests made by World Cup teams on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to concerns over the treatment of migrant workers, who have been vital in constructing World Cup facilities.

“At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world,” Infantino and Samoura wrote. “Please, let’s now focus on the football!”

In February 2021, the Guardian newspaper reported that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in the country since 2010, when Qatar was awarded the World Cup.

The Qatari government has stated that these figures, provided by the respective country’s embassies, included deaths of people not working on World Cup projects. It said, “The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.”

The government said there were 37 deaths between 2014 and 2020 among workers directly linked to the construction of World Cup stadiums, of which three were “work-related”.

Denmark recently announced its players would wear a “toned down” kit during the World Cup, with Danish manufacturer Hummel saying it “does not wish to be visible” at a tournament that “has cost thousands of lives”.

“We support the Danish national team, but that isn’t the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation,” it said.

Khaled al-Suwaidi, a senior member of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee, responded to Denmark’s announcement, saying the country has used the World Cup “as a catalyst to drive change” and has reformed its migrant worker laws.

The Australian national team recently released a video criticising Qatar for its human rights record and calling for the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, which are strictly prohibited in Qatar.

The tournament’s organisers praised the Australian players for “using their platforms to raise awareness for important matters”. Still, they added, “No country is perfect, and every country – hosts of major events or not – has its challenges.”

The captains of nine teams will wear rainbow armbands to support the LGBTQ community.

World Cup organisers have said everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or background, is welcome while also warning against public displays of affection.

Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp recently stated that he believed it was “not fair” to expect players to make political statements. “The decision [to hold the tournament in Qatar] was made by other people, and if you want to criticise anybody, criticise the people who made the decision,” he said.

In a recent television interview, the German minister for sport, Nancy Faeser, appeared to question whether Qatar should stage the tournament due to the alleged mistreatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ community.

She later said her remarks had been “misinterpreted“, adding, “It is important to support the country of Qatar in groundbreaking reforms.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies