The Socceroos have become the first FIFA World Cup side to release a collective statement of protest against Qatar’s human rights record, calling for “effective remedy” for migrant workers and the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships.
The video message, delivered line-by-line by 16 players but supported by the broader Australian playing group, has also been followed up by Football Australia, which has broken its silence on the matter with a separate statement saying the “suffering” felt by workers and their families that has been caused by the tournament “cannot be ignored”.
Together, it represents one of the most significant public demonstrations by any of the 32 nations that have qualified for the World Cup, which kicks off on November 20 in Doha after a decade of controversy and criticism over FIFA’s decision to award hosting rights to the oil-rich, ultra-conservative Middle Eastern state.
Migrant workers have faced oppressive conditions in Qatar and many died while building infrastructure, stadiums and making other preparations for the tournament, although the precise number is hotly contested. The Guardian has estimated that as many as 6500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have passed away in Qatar since it was given the World Cup in 2010 – but the tournament’s organising committee says only three people died on-site while building stadiums. The International Labor Organisation has independently found that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020, and more than 500 were severely injured.
The 16 Australian players involved in the video are: captain Maty Ryan, Bailey Wright, Jamie Maclaren, Nick D’Agostino, Jackson Irvine, Craig Goodwin, Danny Vukovic, Andrew Redmayne, Mathew Leckie, Mitchell Duke, Mitch Langerak, Denis Genreau, Cameron Devlin, Adam Taggart, Kye Rowles and Alex Wilkinson – the president of players union Professional Footballers Australia and Sydney FC skipper who last represented the Socceroos in 2015. The message was crafted by the playing group, with the help of the PFA, and is endorsed by several other players who did not record contributions for various reasons.
The Socceroos celebrate Mitchell Duke’s goal against New Zealand at Eden Park – their last fixture before the World Cup.Credit:Getty
The players recognise that since securing hosting rights, Qatar has put in place some important reforms improving conditions and labour rights – including the abolishment of a system that enabled employers to take away workers’ passports and block them from leaving the country.
However, they said the implementation of these reforms has been inconsistent, and the decision to award World Cup hosting rights to Qatar has “resulted in the suffering and in the harm of countless of our fellow workers”, while also touching on the fact that homosexuality is currently illegal in the country.
“Addressing these issues is not easy. And we do not have all the answers,” the 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.”
The players’ statement was made after a series of briefings with various authorities over the past 12 months, including FIFA, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Legacy and Development, and several groups that advocate for workers in Qatar, facilitating direct conversations between the players and workers on the ground.
Football Australia, in its statement, also acknowledged the recent legislative reforms in Qatar but backed the players’ call for a migrant workers’ centre to protect the rights of workers beyond the World Cup, and also expressed hope for a long-term change in how LGBTQ people are treated in the country.
“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,” FA’s statement said. “Whilst we acknowledge the highest levels of assurances given by HH Amir of Qatar and the President of FIFA that LGBTI+ fans will be safely welcomed in Qatar, we hope that this openness can continue beyond the tournament.”
The Lusail Stadium in Doha will host the World Cup finals in December.Credit:Getty
Football Australia’s statement is significant and somewhat unexpected. Unlike the other countries and players to have spoken out, Australia is in the same confederation as Qatar, and the Socceroos will return there in mid-2023 to play the next Asian Cup. With FA preparing to bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2034, many in the game assumed the federation would remain silent due to political reasons and leave protests to the players.
Instead, FA sources say they have engaged in a months-long consultation process with players, football bodies and other stakeholders, and are seizing what their statement says is an “opportunity to raise awareness of some important issues and help affect change globally and domestically”.
Australia joins several other nations in making public statements against Qatar’s human rights record. Denmark, their Group D opponents, will wear single-colour “protest” jerseys manufactured by Hummel, and have minimised any pre-tournament commercial activity or travel that promotes Qatar.
Players from nine European countries, including England, have also committed to wearing “One Love” armbands, which are intended to protest Qatar’s laws around same-sex relationships, even if they are not approved by FIFA. During qualification, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway (Norway did not qualify for the World Cup finals) wore pre-match T-shirts promoting human rights.
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