Football needs more than armbands to put pressure on Qatar

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

BWhen European federations were having seemingly endless meetings about Qatar, and pressure was building to produce something, there was a statement that now stands out even more.

They were taking too long, a source insisted, because they wanted to do something with a lot more authority than “just wearing a shirt.”

They came with literally less than that, in an armband. Meanwhile, it uses some of the colors of the LGBT social movements without even naming them, and this in a country where male homosexuality remains illegal.

It’s impossible not to think that the latest moves are just more of the “checkbox exercises” for which groups like the Business and Human Rights Resource Center have criticized football. That’s why FairSquare has already said that Wednesday’s statement “falls far short of the detail and specificity that those affected by the World Cup need from participating nations.”

That’s another thing that stands out in the football response. It must be said that some of the movements that accompany the armband usually represent positive steps.

It is good that they at least recognized that compensation “should” be paid, that a migrant workers center be created and that due diligence of suppliers is emphasized. The actors who encounter some migrant workers can even be quite powerful – if highly context dependent.

However, none of the other initiatives have the power they should have, because they need much more detail at this final stage. These are measures that should have been taken months ago, not just 60 days into the tournament, after so much discussion.

Consider the language around compensation. “Should” is not “should”. And so far, only one federation – Germany – has supported FIFA’s campaign to match the $440 million World Cup prize money with compensation for migrant workers. This despite the federations expressly telling the various bodies that they had many competing goals and that it was better to go away and reach a collective goal. That’s what they did, and that’s the answer they got. Almost anything.

It all hits football once again wanting to be seen doing the right thing but actually not risking anything. There is very little in all of this that puts pressure on Qatar or makes the hosts uncomfortable.

That is why Amnesty International acknowledges the progress of the declaration, but immediately requests that the Football Federation “specifically support a FIFA compensation fund for maltreated workers and the families of those who died to make the World Cup happen”.

Instead, Qatar is barely mentioned in any critical sense. And this is where we get to the heart of this whole issue.

Before we even get into discussions about how the World Cup was won and the sports laundered, the reality is that this highly politicized tournament could not have taken place without building an infrastructure that inherently involves the abuse of migrant workers. The number of deaths would usually be added here, but that remains impossible to say because Qatar will not yet conduct a proper investigation.

Despite all this, there now seems to be a fairly widespread acceptance that it would be unfair to expect players or teams to boycott this tournament because they are not responsible for decisions made above their heads. This may be the only chance at a World Cup for some, only to be in Qatar.

This is all true and fair, but the obvious reality is still inescapable. This understanding requires some overt action. If one goes to Qatar, he must use his considerable influence to force change, to bring about some positive aspects.

Football can still have an absolutely immense effect here. There may be an investigation conducted for workers, practices changed and compensation paid. This is why the softness of such statements, with time running out, is so frustrating.

Many involved will point to the supposedly delicate diplomacy of it all. There is the fact that they must work with UEFA and FIFA, that the collective positions are stronger. There is the broader political situation, where Qatar has invested billions in Western European infrastructure, with it in the midst of an energy crisis caused by a war started by the last World Cup hosts. The circularity of it all is irritating, which is exactly why the game must be so much better at it. Circumstances have only diluted criticism, especially from politicians.

Even Gareth Southgate talked about how people in the West should be careful when imposing cultural norms in another country. But this goes beyond all that.

It’s about how a World Cup should never be staged at any human cost. That’s why Amnesty correctly points out that “top division football is immensely rich and genuinely influential” and that “Fifa should have insisted on human rights clauses when it originally evaluated Qatar’s bid as host”.

In 2022, such an event should be a joyous celebration of all the good in humanity. It shouldn’t involve a single death, let alone any of the migrant workers suffering this World Cup was responsible. And all this for highly politicized purposes of sports washing.

The question for football is whether it just wants to passively participate in it or take action. Will Qatar really be allowed to enjoy the great benefits of a mass event that involved so much suffering, or will it be forced to endure even some resistance from the very teams and players it seeks to use?

It will require much more than an armband. It just doesn’t have much time.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at

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