Euro 2020 caught us by surprise in terms of exhilaration, potent sensations and pure excitement. We expected nothing, we got titillation and togetherness.
Desperate for more, the parting message ‘See you in Qatar’ gave us a lifeline. Gareth Southgate says England will finally win, while the rest of the world chants. “Ha. No you won’t.”
In just 18 months, the drama will continue and our emotions will vacillate once again, this time in the darkest of winter.
But it’s difficult not to see irony in this Eastern promise. The dust has yet to settle on the grotesque racism thrown at some English footballers, particularly Markus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho who all missed penalties. Instances of abuse included monkey emojis, a defaced Rashford’s mural in Manchester and 120 Twitter assaults of the worst kind.
Southgate called it “unforgivable”, Sasha Baron Cohen’ called out social media companies for allowing ‘hate’ to spread. The wider audience wholeheartedly agrees: Racial abuse will not be tolerated and those who perpetuate it need to be made accountable.
But if we can condemn the actions of a handful of small-time cowards who hide behind fake accounts, why not question possible human rights violations in Qatar?
Reports over the past ten years coming from a country where homosexuality is illegal, show diminished migrant workers rights, poor housing conditions and low pay at best. A 2020 United Nations report found “serious concerns of structural racial discrimination against non-nationals” stating a “de facto caste system” based on national origin exists.
Data compiled by a 2021 report by The Guardian newspaper found over 6,500 deaths of low wage migrant workers from countries including India, Nepal and Pakistan occurred between 2011 and 2020.
Though not definitively linked to World Cup infrastructure projects, it was ‘likely many workers who have died were employed on those projects,’ according to Nick McGeehan, an expert on Middle Eastern labour rights. The unprecedented building programme saw seven new stadia, a new airport, roads, public transport systems, hotels costing a staggering €200 billion built by millions of migrant workers in hot daytime conditions.
Qatar has contested accusations of workers rights abuse and egregious mistreatment. In August 2020 it announced landmark changes to labour laws, but it was a little too late for bereft families of dead workers.
In western Europe, we haven’t hosted a World Cup since Germany in 2006 and infrastructure is already in place. Yet in Qatar, all this is being built for one event and then what? White elephants from Athens, Sydney and Beijing Olympics should tell a tale, whatever about the now empty stadia from the World Cup in Russia.
Footballers have massive clout and like to stand up for inequality, taking the kneel before matches, helping the poor, condemning racism and homophobia, so why not boycott the World Cup in Qatar on behalf of those who died building it’s stadiums? Ronaldo allegedly wiped billions of the value of Coca Cola shares after removing bottles at a press conference, imagine what would happen if he said: ‘I’m not going to Qatar.’
But would Messi do the same? Bar some human rights T shirts worn during qualifier matches by Germany, Norway and Holland, national teams have rejected the push by grassroots clubs to boycott the World Cup. After all, there are contracts with sponsors, TV rights and egos to think of. Not surprisingly, Fifa, responsible for its dubious nomination and other corruption scandals has remained largely schtum.
The contradictory behaviour of decamping to Qatar where everyone will turn a blind eye to inequality and exploitation because it is expedient to do can’t be denied.
Sadly, even woke members of the public, who happily ride on the coattails of someone else’s victimhood just to be offended by something haven’t stepped up. When the time comes, planes to Doha’s shiny new airport will be full.
If Ireland qualifies – fan’s will be clad in green, Qatar bound, anticipating adventure despite alcoholic restrictions, while those who stay home will curse the cold, but still watch the damn thing.
It seems that we – the people, the players, the managers are collectively powerless to this highly commodified and commercialised game, no matter how wrong it can be.
Unlike football, our compassion for human rights is only skin deep.