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  • Writer's pictureDJ

Together Stronger?

It’s 64 years since a Wales football team played in the World Cup finals, and 56 years since an England team won the tournament. So yes, plenty of sports fans are excited about Qatar 2022, but many of us approached the tournament with strong reservations.

And at time of writing – November 23rd – nothing has happened to reassure us. To summarize:

It’s legal in Qatar to control where a woman can go, to impose a curfew on her and punish her for breaking it. Domestic abuse is not legally criminalised. Unmarried women aged under 25 need written permission from their guardians to leave the country.

The practice of homosexuality in Qatar is punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report recently claimed that Qatari security forces have been arbitrarily arresting LGBT citizens, detaining them without charge in an underground prison in Doha and subjecting them to verbal and physical abuse. Two weeks before the start of the World Cup, tournament ambassador Khalid Salman gave a frank interview in which he described being gay as “damage in the mind”.

An estimated 6,500 migrant workers have died while building the eight stadiums, 100 plus hotels and transport infrastructure needed for the World Cup. A TUC investigation into working conditions revealed forced back-to-back shifts for 30 days without a break for as little as £1 per hour, and frequent under-payment and non-payment of wages, with those protesting against mistreatment arrested. The amount earned, or earnable, usually fell far short of what was needed to repay the extortionate recruitment fees charged by unscrupulous hiring firms (reputable recruiters charge their fees to the employer, not the employee, but that practice is reversed in Qatar). The Kafala labour system binds workers to sponsors who control their accommodation and immigration status, and up until 2020, migrants had to acquire an exit permit to leave the country or a certificate to switch jobs. It seems reasonable to ask what the difference is between employment of this nature and indentured servitude.

Qatar has no football tradition – hence the requirement to build venues from scratch – and hosting a summer tournament there, as originally promised in their 2010 bid, would have involved playing and watching matches in temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. That might have given players a clearer understanding of why so many migrant workers died over the past twelve years, but a change of plan was inevitable, and the compromise has satisfied no one. The executives who awarded the World Cup to Qatar have what might politely be termed credibility issues. A 2015 investigation by the US Department of Justice found compelling evidence that FIFA was a hive of racketeering and criminal corruption, resulting in 30 indictments. Current FIFA President Gianni Infantino remains an outspoken supporter of Qatar, and the day before the opening ceremony he claimed that he understood the pain of dehumanised migrant workers, women and gay people because, as a child growing up in Switzerland, he was mocked for having freckles. Thanks for sharing, Gianni.

I often doubted a Wales team would qualify for the World Cup finals in my lifetime and I’m glad they did. I just wish it was somewhere else. I wish a host expecting 1.2m visitors had more than 30,000 hotel rooms available and I wish 80% of those rooms hadn’t been pre-booked by FIFA for teams, officials and sponsors. I’m glad passionate, loyal fans can see their teams play on the world stage. I just wish those fans weren’t being herded like cattle, denied the opportunity to have a drink by a last-minute alcohol ban while corporate sponsors are living the high life on six-course gourmet menus and their choice of any alcoholic drink they want. And I wish that when games were over these fans, who’ve saved up for this event at a time of massive economic uncertainty, weren’t having to pay £175 each per night to sleep in tents on building sites with no air conditioning. I wish a game that we’re often told belongs to the fans hadn’t been stolen from under their noses, then sold back to them so expensively and exploitatively. I’m glad “Together Stronger” is the Wales team’s motto and I’m proud of the spirit that helps Welsh teams punch above their weight. I just wish that when we used that motto, we’d cast the net a little wider than our own nationality. Wales and England players have spoken up for the rights of migrant workers, mistreated ethnic minorities, women and gay people, and without the shackles imposed by FIFA they’d surely speak up more loudly. The players didn’t create this mess. FIFA, a governing body as corrupt and self-serving as any national government on earth, created it by handing the people’s game to a country where so many of those people are persecuted. The players deserve our support and I’m glad to give them mine. I’d just like to suggest that when we talk about being “Together Stronger” during and after this World Cup, we do it with a true spirit of togetherness. Unlike Gianni Infantino I don’t claim to understand what it means to be a migrant worker, a woman or a gay person facing prejudice. But I do understand enough to say that the motto “Together Stronger” should now be used to include every one of them, because they deserve our support too.

How will you give it?


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