FIFA and Qatar ‘rattled’ as European World Cup boycott gathers pace

Giant banners are now a familiar sight at German Bundesliga matches.

Deployed by fans and seen by millions on television, ‘Boycott Qatar 2022’ has become a rallying cry for clubs, supporters and players opposing this month’s World Cup and want to highlight human rights and environmental concerns in the host country.

“The closer the World Cup gets, the more intense the message becomes,” explained Stefan Schirmer of the Boycott Qatar campaign.

“It feels like the last two or three months the momentum is going up, it’s going up,” Schirmer, who plays football for an amateur club in Mainz, told Euronews.

Schirmer is involved with other volunteers in the campaign to keep the public’s attention on the controversial decision to award the World Cup to Qatar. Recently, the US Department of Justice alleged Qatar has been involved in bribes FIFA delegates for the votes, which Doha and FIFA strongly deny.

The campaign also aims to raise awareness of concerns around women’s rights, the LGBT community and migrant workers, democracy and the environmental impact of hosting a tournament in air-conditioned stadiums.

Philipp Lahm, the former German player who led his country to the world championship title in Brazil eight years ago, recently said he would not be going to Qatar as part of the official delegation or as what a fan.

“Human rights should play an important role in the awarding of tournaments. If a country that is doing poorly in this area gets the award (for accommodation), then you have to think about the criteria on which the decision was based,” Lahm told German news agency dpa.

Parallel campaigns in Spain and in France — where a number of cities have refused to show games – galvanize the fans there too.

It comes just before the 32-team tournament kicks off on November 20.

“FIFA and Qatar care about it because it hurts the image they want to create in public. They want the World Cup to be a happy football festival and it’s fine. But they see that in many more and more countries, more and more people are speaking out loud against this World Cup,” said Boycott Qatar 2022is Stefan Schirmer.

Diplomatic row between Germany and Qatar

Qatar faces more than just pressure from the football community. In October, the German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser – whose portfolio also covers sport – is said to have criticized Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, prompting an official complaint to the German ambassador in Doha.

This week, however, Faeser traveled to Qatar and said she had received a “safety guarantee” for German LGBT visitors attending the tournament. The organizers have repeatedly said that all visitors will be welcomed and treated with respect, regardless of their sexuality or gender. Unmarried couples will not be prohibited from sharing accommodation.

His comments came just a day after Qatar’s foreign minister was quoted by German media as saying that the German population “is being misinformed by government politicians” on the one hand, while the government itself “has no problem with us when it comes to partnerships or energy investments”.

The state of Qatar is one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world, selling billions of euros to European countries. In 2021, Qatar supplied 24% of total LNG imports into Europe.

“We are annoyed by double standards,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in a interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saying Qatar had faced a systematic campaign against them in the 12 years since their selection to host the World Cup which they said no other country had faced.

“It’s ironic when that tone is set in countries in Europe that call themselves liberal democracies. It sounds very arrogant, frankly, and very racist,” he told the newspaper.

A former captain defends the rights of migrant workers in Qatar

One of the first and most prominent European footballers to defend the rights of migrant workers in Qatar was Tim Spav.

The former captain of the Finnish national team, who led his team to the European Championships last year, won a players union award in 2021 for his work.

Sparv got involved in the problem when his teammate Riku Riski refused participate in a training camp in Qatar in early 2019 for ethical reasons.

“At the time, I was captain of the national team, so it’s also a question of leadership. You can’t just hide, because the questions from the journalists are not just about your last game. I so I tried to find out more and educate myself about the situation in Qatar,” Sparv told Euronews.

It is widely quoted that 6,500 migrant workers have died since Qatar won the World Cup in 2010. But this figure represents all deaths, according to the UN, not necessarily at work or while working on stadium construction projects. Qatar says there have been 37 fatalities “directly linked to the construction of World Cup stadiums”.

A recent letter from FIFA to the countries participating in the World Cup warned them to focus on sports and not on other issues.

Sparv, who now coaches juniors at Sparta Prague, said he believed FIFA was “shaken” by the wave of animosity against the organization and the Qatar World Cup.

“Reading that letter, it seemed really arrogant in the first place. You get the sense that they’re a little shaken up and they don’t like what’s going on: people are taking a stand and other people are talking.”

european teams replied to FIFA with their own letter, saying they still need answers to questions around the rights of migrant workers in particular – while welcoming assurances from the Qatari government and FIFA regarding the safety of supporters, including LGBTQ+ supporters.

“I think there’s also a place and a time to boycott and it’s a last step, so there are other alternatives to boycotting. I’m interested to see how players, federations, coaches and teams are using this opportunity while they are in Qatar, and sorting out these issues,” said Finn Tim Sparv.

“It will definitely be a little disappointing if they don’t say anything. It would be a wasted opportunity and something they would regret later.”

The plight of construction workers and domestic workers living in desperate conditions has been well documented over the years.

In response, the Qatari government revised the country’s labor laws and introduced a minimum wage.

But human rights organizations say abuses against migrant workers remain rampant in Qatar and labor reforms are unfinished.

What does the campaign mean when they call for a “boycott”, exactly?

The Boycott Qatar 2022 campaign has never had any illusions that it could somehow stop the tournament, which is a juggernaut of sport, marketing and geopolitics – “c It’s a fantasy,” said Stefan Schirmer.

But they encourage people to boycott in their own way.

“I won’t watch any World Cup matches, and in fact at our Mainz club we had friendly matches against other teams during the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final,” said Schirmer.

The campaign hopes that individual football fans will opt out of matches on TV and that pubs that would normally show matches will decide not to do so this year, for ethical reasons.

“We want pubs and clubs to be creative and provide alternative activities for fans.”

“The boycott of Qatar is just a set of very small actions, but together we can have a very big voice, and that can have a positive effect.”

At press time, Qatar did not respond to Euronews’ request for comment regarding the boycott campaign.

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