Australia’s football team on Thursday condemned human rights abuses in Qatar ahead of the World Cup, becoming the first participant to collectively criticise the host.
Sixteen members of the men’s team – the Socceroos – appeared in a short video explaining their position.
“We have learned that the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has resulted in the suffering and harm of countless of our fellow workers,” said Jackson Irvine, a one-time Celtic midfielder.
The World Cup – beginning on November 20 – has been marred by controversy since Qatar was awarded the tournament 12 years ago.
Before making the statement, the Australian players spoke to labour organisations and advocacy groups such as Amnesty International.
“Over the last two years, we have been on a journey to understand and know more about the situation in Qatar,” said Socceroos captain Maty Ryan, a former Arsenal goalkeeper.
The players acknowledged Qatar’s attempts to improve working conditions for migrants but said these changes had been “inconsistent”.
Governing body Football Australia also released a statement critical of Qatar’s human rights record.
“We acknowledge the significant progress and legislative reforms (that) have occurred in Qatar over recent years to recognise and protect the rights of workers, and we encourage all stakeholders to continue this path to reform,” it said.
“However, we have also learned that the tournament has been associated with suffering for some migrant workers and their families and this cannot be ignored.”
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.
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.
‘Courage from athletes’ –
Former Socceroos captain and Crystal Palace midfielder Craig Foster praised the Australian team for its message.
“They are essentially carrying the load of FIFA and other federations around the world—to be upholding their own human rights policies,” Foster said.
“There’s so much pressure in football to not be talking about this. So this takes courage from athletes.”
Australian athletes have in recent weeks been increasingly willing to mix politics and sport—an often-volatile combination.
The Australian cricket team backed out of a sponsorship deal with energy company Alinta, after Test captain Pat Cummins refused to appear in its ads over climate change concerns.
And the Australian netball team objected to wearing jerseys sponsored by a mining company whose late founder once suggested sterilising some Indigenous populations.
‘Double standards’ –
A huge influx of migrant workers has underpinned Qatar’s dash to prepare the infrastructure needed for one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
This has included building new roads, a new airport, a bespoke rail network and seven new stadiums.
More than one million fans are expected to descend on Qatar when the tournament kicks off.
According to Amnesty International, migrant workers from countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and India have been paid meagre wages while toiling on World Cup projects.
The International Labour Organization said 50 World Cup workers died in 2020, and hundreds more were injured.
Qatar has stridently disputed the extent of worker exploitation.
Its ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, this week hit out at the “fabrications and double standards” in what he described as an “unprecedented campaign” of criticism since the country was awarded the World Cup.
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