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The Daily Bee (March 25th, 2021): Erling Haaland, Norwegian Players Protest Workers Rights in Qatar

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The Norwegian national team voiced their disapproval of the treatment of workers in Qatar. Will other countries follow suit?

Gibraltar v Norway - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier Photo by Ian Martinez/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Good morning, Fear the Wall.

Let’s talk geopolitics.

Erling Haaland and fellow Norwegians Show Support for Human Rights in Qatar

When the Norwegian national team took to the pitch to warm up, prior to their match against Gibraltar in yesterday’s World Cup qualifiers, they wore t-shirts calling out the government of Qatar for its gross mistreatment of migrant workers. According to Norway’s head coach, Stale Solbakken, the Norwegian team wanted to raise awareness of the subject in an effort to compel FIFA to lobby for stricter enforcement of labor laws in Qatar.

According to a recent report mentioned in the Guardian, around 6,500 migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan have suffered work-related deaths since the FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2011. In a country of less than three million, Qatar’s workforce is almost entirely composed of around two million migrant workers, mostly from South Asia, but also from Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and other parts of the Middle East. These millions of workers suffer from appalling working conditions, a glaring lack of safety regulations, corruption, wage theft, and some have even barred workers’ freedom of movement. Face-saving attempts at reform by the government have resulted in limited enforcement, and according to Amnesty International, the situation for workers in Qatar remains harsh. And that’s to say nothing of Qatar’s abuses of LGBTQ rights.

When FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2011, it was a head-scratching decision that immediately reeked of corruption (suspicions that the U.S. Department of Justice has reinforced). Qatar had little to no infrastructure to host a major tournament, no footballing tradition of any kind, an extremely hot desert climate that forced FIFA to schedule the tournament to the winter months, and a tiny population that could barely fill a football stadium. The one thing it does have lots of, however, is money.

Despite its small size, Qatar is the second-largest exporter of natural gas in the world, and as a result, Qatar has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. The Qatari government has used its resources to turn global football into an international public relations campaign. By hosting tournaments like the Club World Cup, forming financial relationships with major clubs, and now by hosting the most prestigious tournament in the sport, Qatar has broadcasted an image as a modern, friendly nation, and organizations like FIFA and UEFA have been happy to play along as long as the money has kept flowing.

Norway’s protest yesterday was the first I’ve heard of any major resistance from any football association or national team to the World Cup in Qatar, but apparently the debate isn’t new in Norway. According to ESPN, the Norwegian club Tromso FC kick started a movement to boycott the 2022 World Cup because of Qatar’s workers’ rights abuses, and a majority of the Norwegian people would support a boycott.

It’s one thing to wear a T-shirt, but it’s another thing to boycott the World Cup, the most prestigious tournament in football. It’s something players dream of participating in for their entire lives, so it’s a significant sacrifice, for the lack of a better term, for a player to forgo joining the competition for political reasons. It would be a huge statement if one of the players, or an entire national team, would boycott the World Cup. As this article in the Independent points out, hundreds of players have protested racial injustice, and rightfully so, but few have in turn protested the horrific working conditions in Qatar.

I’m not sure if it should be up to the original players to boycott the World Cup. They weren’t the ones who “allegedly” (cannot stress the air quotes enough) accepted bribes, and many players will only have a handful of chances to play in the World Cup. Furthermore, if only a handful of players boycott the tournament, then nothing of consequence will happen and it will take place without fanfare. But if a large group of major footballing countries decide to boycott the tournament, then FIFA would be in a very tough spot, and may even have to consider giving in and moving the tournament elsewhere. At the very least, they could use the World Cup as leverage to push for more thorough protections of workers’ rights.

But it’s FIFA, so I won’t hold my breath.

The Daily Buzz

Are players who participate in the World Cup in Qatar tacitly supporting the government’s abuse of workers? What would you do in their situation?