Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near

Harry Kane and other team captains will sport rainbow-themed armbands at next month’s World Cup in Qatar to support the anti-discrimination One Love message that promotes diversity and inclusion. The England striker said it would send a clear message when the world is watching, as a deeply conservative Gulf country plays host to international football’s most prestigious tournament. But the Dutch-led campaign to highlight social issues while in Qatar has already proved divisive.

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Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near
Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near

Football’s governing body FIFA has not yet clarified whether the federations involved would be punished for breaking its rules that strictly prohibit political action on the pitch. Critics have also dismissed the armband as a token gesture calibrated to appear sincere without ruffling feathers in a country where homosexuality remains illegal. The armband to be worn by Kane and the others is slightly different from the rainbow flag that is widely recognized as promoting LGBT+ rights. The row is symbolic of the broader challenge facing players, teams, and sponsors as they seek to navigate issues such as human rights and conditions for migrant workers that have overshadowed the run-up to the tournament.

In a video released this week to mark one month to kick-off, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: Let me repeat it clearly: everyone will be welcomed to the tournament, regardless of their origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality. But minutes later, World Cup chief operating officer Colin Smith added: All we ask is that people respect the cultural norms of Qatar. Controversy often swirls around big sporting events, and the focus usually switches once the competition gets underway. Western diplomats boycotted the Winter Olympics in Beijing this year due to concerns about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs population in Xinjiang.

Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near
Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near

“The previous World Cup was held in Russia four years after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea. But the level of attention directed at Qatar is unusual. Paul Michael Brannagan, the author of Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change, said it was arguably the most controversial sports mega-event ever, adding it was much easier to criticize Qatar because it’s a much newer country. It’s moving at such a fast pace economically. But it’s much harder to modernize in social terms,” said Brannagan, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The huge disruption to the European football calendar caused by moving the competition from summer to winter has also raised hackles and highlighted what many see as the farcical decision to host one of the world’s most popular summer sporting events in the small desert nation. The gas-rich monarchy was awarded the 2022 World Cup on the same day that Russia secured hosting rights to the 2018 event, enabling years of additional scrutiny. The process was so marred by allegations of corruption and impropriety that it brought down many of FIFA’s most powerful executives and led to an overhaul of the way World Cup hosts are picked.

Rights groups have pressured FIFA and Qatar to compensate the families of migrant workers who died or suffered injuries during the building of World Cup facilities. The call has garnered support from several football federations, French and US lawmakers, and a handful of World Cup sponsors although most have said nothing on the issue. FIFA has said it remained in positive ongoing dialogue with labour groups and the Doha authorities over initiatives that will benefit migrant workers in Qatar long after the final game of the World Cup. Worldwide Tickets and Hospitality offers Football World Cup tickets for the Qatar Football World Cup at the best prices. Football fanatics and buy Football World Cup Tickets at exclusively discounted prices.

Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near
Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near

When asked about a compensation fund, Qatar’s organizing committee directed the Financial Times to an existing programmed set up to address worker injuries, deaths, and non-payment of wages. Ricardo Fort, a sports business consultant who ran global sponsorship for Coca-Cola and Visa, said any big sporting event gives a great opportunity for society to demand change to something that’s not right. But it also created an unrealistic expectation that sponsors have a degree of influence over what happens. That’s not the case.

Former French star Eric Cantona and Germany’s World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm are among those who pledged to stay away, but the boycott movement failed to gather momentum. Instead, small steps are being taken to show displeasure. Several French cities, including Paris and Marseille, have chosen not to show games in public places during the tournament. Marseille’s mayor, Benoit Payan, has called the Qatar World Cup a human and environmental disaster” that was incompatible with the values we want to see conveyed through sport.

Yet Qatar is already enmeshed with the French capital and its top football team, Paris Saint-Germain, which has been owned by the Qatari state for more than a decade. The sovereign wealth fund of neighbouring Saudi Arabia also took control of Newcastle United last year, while a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family owns English champions Manchester City.

Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near
Football tiptoes around social issues as Qatar Football World Cup draws near

“Hummel, which makes the Danish team’s kit, has created new shirts with toned-down branding and a third strip in all black the colour of mourning. We wish to make a statement about Qatar’s human rights record and its treatment of the migrant workers,” the company told.

However, some saw this as a clever marketing stunt by a smaller brand trying to make an impact. “They have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by protesting, said Fort. Many in football also point out that there are limits to what can be achieved in Qatar, especially after the month-long World Cup roadshow moves on. There’s not a lot more the players can do than talk about those issues, said England manager Gareth Southgate. In the end, we’re asking for a change in a country that we’re respectful of, that has made a lot of progress, but also, we don’t have any control over it.

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