Qatar divides football, FIFA seeks unity ahead of World Cup draw

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A chance to change a country’s perceptions. A tournament to promote unity.

Have you heard it before?

Qatar is the next stop on the world tour of major sporting events in countries ruled by autocratic governments often decried by human rights activists, but whose financial weight may prove irresistible to competition organisers.

The build-up to Friday’s World Cup draw only reinforces 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. organized.

Take David Beckham. The megastar and former England captain was brought in as an ambassador for Qatar but has been kept away from the international media, preventing him from facing tough questions but also preventing him from speaking about the tournament.

Meanwhile, coaches and teams who should be focusing on their tactics and preparations must spend time addressing concerns about playing in a country that denies the equal rights and freedoms demanded by groups of advocacy and where low-paid migrant workers have suffered for years while building the $200 billion infrastructure.

“The excitement over the tournament is palpable,” said Michael Page of Human Rights Watch. “It is extremely important to ensure that the migrant workers who made the tournament possible and who were harmed in the process are not forgotten.”

Then there’s 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 a US Department of Justice investigation. .

“No player had a vote or a say or even a discussion when this decision was made,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of the global players’ union FIFPRO, in Doha on Wednesday. “It is there, above all, that the tension must go. And I would like to see people push their federation officials to raise these issues at the (FIFA) 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.

The congress reconvenes with not only Qatar’s next tournament fracturing football, but the very future of the World Cup causing divisions. The push for the biennial World Cups has stalled, however, as Infantino pulled out of the railroad under those plans this week after Europe and South America resisted to the point of threatening to boycotts.

“We are at a complete stalemate because everything is stuck between institutional and personal squabbles and fights,” Baer-Hoffmann said. “Maybe some of the bad proposals get rejected, which seems to be the case, but it also makes it impossible to make the necessary decisions that the game actually needs to make.”

While Infantino has stopped talking about biennial World Cups, there is still a need to settle the new international match schedules for 2024 which determine when clubs should release players for their countries.

That schedule had to be adjusted to host a World Cup contested in November and December for the first time due to Qatar’s fierce summer heat, making it potentially dangerous to stage it in June and July. The heat in the small Gulf country has contributed to working conditions that have led to the deaths of workers building World Cup infrastructure.

The limited transparency of the Qatari authorities on the cause of death and the number of injuries among migrant workers worries unions and rights activists. But changes have been enacted by Qatar, including a minimum wage, stricter work regulations and greater freedom for workers to quit their jobs.

“What has already been done is truly revolutionary in a very short time,” Infantino said. “The progress in terms of human rights, workers’ rights in particular, has been incredible and this must be recognized.

Enforcement of these rules on construction sites in the ever-expanding Doha horizon continues to raise concerns. There is also pressure on Qatar to continue legislating after the World Cup to better protect workers. Until then, teams are urged to use the tournament to draw attention to the plight of migrant workers, primarily from South West Asia.

So far, no team or player refuses to participate in Qatar. Just as there was no boycott of Russia in 2018 when Ukrainian territory was already invaded.

Russia will not play in Qatar after being disqualified from the final stages of qualifying as a punishment for Vladimir Putin’s war.

Such aggression towards a neighbor undermined Infantino’s hope that the 2018 World Cup would change the ‘world’s perception of Russia’. Four years earlier, IOC President Thomas Bach evoked “the face of a new Russia” at the Sochi Olympics just before the annexation of Crimea.

It’s that kind of story that makes it harder to convince the world that a World Cup in Qatar will have any positive effect, beyond allowing another country to use a mega-event to boost its image.

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