DOHA, Qatar ( Associated Press) – An opportunity to change perceptions of a country. A tournament to promote unity.
Have you heard this before?
Qatar is the next stop on the global tour of major sporting events to nations led by autocratic governments that are often rejected by human rights activists, but whose financial influence may be irresistible to competition organizers.
The build-up to the World Cup draw on Friday reinforces just how toxic the tournament has become for FIFA and Qatar, who hoped it would be a celebration of the Middle East hosting its biggest sporting spectacle ever.
Take David Beckham. The megaster and former English captain was recruited as an ambassador for Qatar, but was kept away from international media – which protects him from difficult questions but also prevents him from speaking out at the tournament.
Meanwhile, coaches and teams that need to focus on their tactics and preparations need to spend time addressing concerns about playing in a country that denies the equal rights and freedoms required by law groups and where low-paid migrant workers have suffered for years while construction of the $ 200 billion infrastructure.
“The excitement of the tournament is palpable,” said Michael Page of Human Rights Watch. “It is extremely important to ensure that migrant workers who made the tournament possible and were harmed in the process are not forgotten.”
Then there is the fact that the 2010 FIFA vote that awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar was fueled by bribes according to an investigation by the US Department of Justice.
“No player had a voice or say or even a discussion when this decision was made,” Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of the World Players Union FIFPRO, said in Doha on Wednesday. “That’s where, firstly, the tension must go. And I would like to see people really push their federation officials to raise these things at (FIFA’s) congress. “
The congress of the 211 football federations is the parliamentary body of FIFA. It has not met in person due to the pandemic since 2019 when it re-elected Gianni Infantino as president.
Congress is reuniting with not only the upcoming Qatar tournament to break football, but the future of the World Cup that is causing division. However, the pursuit of biennial World Cups came to a halt as Infantino withdrew from the railways this week through these plans after Europe and South America resisted to the point of looming boycotts.
“We are in a total impasse because everything is stuck between institutional and personal bickering and fighting,” Baer-Hoffmann said. “Maybe some of the bad proposals are rejected, which is apparently the case, but it also makes it impossible to make the necessary decisions that the game actually has to make.”
While Infantino has stopped talking about biennial World Cups, there is still a need to sort out the new international match calendars for 2024 that determine when clubs should release players for their countries.
That calendar had to be adjusted to accommodate a World Cup tournament being played for the first time in November and December due to Qatar’s intense summer heat which makes it potentially dangerous to stage it in June and July. The heat in the small Gulf nation contributed to the working conditions that led to deaths among the workers building the World Cup infrastructure.
Limited transparency of Qatari authorities on the cause of death and number of injuries among the migrant workers worries unions and rights activists. But changes have been introduced by Qatar, including a minimum wage, stricter labor regulations and more freedom for workers to leave work.
“What has already been done is really groundbreaking in a very short time,” Infantino said. “The progress in terms of human rights, of workers’ rights in particular, has been incredible and it must be acknowledged.”
There are still concerns about the application of those rules to construction sites across the ever-growing Doha skyline. There is also pressure on Qatar to continue legislation after the World Cup to protect workers more. Until then, teams are asked to use the tournament to draw attention to the plight of migrant workers, mostly from Southwest Asia.
So far no team or player has refused to participate in Qatar. Just as in 2018 there was no boycott of Russia despite the Ukrainian territory already invaded.
Russia will not play in Qatar after being disqualified from the final stages of qualifying to punish Vladimir Putin’s war.
Such aggression against a neighbor has undermined Infantino’s hopes that the 2018 World Cup will change the “perception the world has of Russia.” Four years earlier, IOC President Thomas Bach had spoken of “the face of a new Russia” at the Sochi Olympics just before the annexation of Crimea.
It is that kind of history that makes it harder to convince the world that a World Cup in Qatar will have a positive effect, other than allowing another country to use a mega-event to polish its image.
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