Ballot on Football Australia on the human rights implications of the World Cup in Qatar

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Since the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar by FIFA in 2010, there has been a lot of talk about the human rights implications of the tournament. And for the past couple of years, the Socceroos – with the support of their union, the Professional Footballers Australia – have undertaken their own investigation to better understand the reality of the situation they might enter if they qualified.

Briefings were organized with many key bodies: Fifa and the local organizing committee, the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Development; Fifpro, the union of global players; human rights group Amnesty International; and groups that support workers in Qatar, including the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Building and Wood Workers’ International.

Related: Football corruption and the extraordinary road to the Qatar World Cup

But in September, after qualifying mid-year in a dramatic shootout, players decided they had to go straight to the source. With the help of the PFA, a briefing was organized with several migrant workers who were involved in the AU $ 470 billion construction extravaganza needed to prepare a small nation of less than three million people for the largest sporting event in the world. world.

According to sources present at the briefing, which took place via Zoom just before the recent friendlies of the Socceroos, it was not a happy conversation. “The working conditions are horrendous,” said one participant.

Despite numerous speeches by the FIFA and Qatari authorities on reforming the law to strengthen labor rights, migrant workers on whose shoulders the World Cup was built continue to face labor rights violations. The Guardian’s analysis found that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since winning World Cup reception rights, many of whom likely worked in tournament related projects. (Qatari officials said only three workers died on the spot during stadium construction, a claim that has been disputed.) There are widespread reports of alleged work-related injuries, unpaid wages, squalid housing conditions and abuse in the workplace.

“The World Cup is the pinnacle for any player and we know how much qualification means to the nation and the game,” Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine told The Guardian Australia. “Over the past two years we have engaged directly with human rights groups and migrant workers to better understand the situation in Qatar.”

“We all have a role to play,” says Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images

A campaign led by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FairSquare, “#PayUpFifa”, asked Fifa to set up a fund for workers to guarantee compensation for violations of workers’ rights. Despite support for the campaign by Belgian, French, English, German, Dutch, Welsh and American football associations, FIFA has not yet accepted the proposal.

“We know there has been progress,” says Irvine. “But we also know that much more needs to be done to fully implement the reforms and the establishment of a center for migrant workers is key to continuing progress.”

Related: The Guardian’s point of view on the Qatar World Cup: gestures are not enough | Editorial

Concerns about labor standards are only part of the human rights-based objection to the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar. Political and civil rights are significantly limited in the authoritarian state, with the hereditary emir holding all executive and legislative authority. Freedom House ranked Qatar “not free” in its latest assessment, which noted that “while the citizens of Qatar are among the richest in the world, the majority of the population is made up of non-citizens with no political rights, few civil liberties. and limited access to economic opportunity. ”Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and there have been concerns about the treatment of LGBTQI + visitors to the World Cup.

“FIFA’s 2010 decision to hand over World Cup hosting rights to Qatar was misleading and continues to attract justified criticism,” said Justine Nolan, law professor and director of the Australian Human Rights Institute (AHRI) at the UNSW. “Fifa’s most recent adoption of policies that espouse non-discrimination and respect for human rights is not in line with Qatari policies and practices that actively discriminate against women, migrant workers and LGBTQ + people.”

In its final report on the situation ahead of the World Cup, released last week, Amnesty said there was “still a long way to go” to address human rights and labor rights issues in Qatar. “Despite the positive evolution of Qatar’s work system, there is still substantial work to implement and enforce them effectively [changes]”States the report. “Ultimately, human rights violations persist today on a significant scale.”

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Last week, legal experts and sports administrators gathered at a central Sydney hotel to discuss the growing attention to the human rights implications of mega-sporting events. Convened by the AHRI, the event was made even more relevant by the recent collisions between sports and politics in Australian sports, including netball, cricket and Australian football. The conference discussed sportswashing, a global phenomenon with significant domestic implications.

“Ahead of the World Cup some teams are choosing to stand up for rights, yet Football Australia (FA) remains silent, seemingly overlooking the human cost of staging this extravagance in Qatar,” says Nolan, who co-called the event.

Related: Has the World Cup really improved workers’ rights in Qatar? Five experts deliver their verdict

Conversely, many other nations participating in the World Cup have publicly denounced the human rights implications of the tournament. The Danish national team will wear a special “protest” uniform; England players will sport a rainbow “one love” headband (FIFA has yet to approve the design, which will also be worn by several other European teams).

An FA spokesperson told Guardian Australia that it has been engaged in an “ongoing education and dialogue process to gather information on the situation regarding the preservation of human rights and the welfare of workers in connection with hosting the FIFA World Cup Qatar. 2022 “.

The spokesperson acknowledged the recent legal reforms in Qatar and said FA urged “companies and organizations working in Qatar to continue the reform path and ensure compliance with the new legislative standards”. The FA also indicated that it has undertaken due diligence in relation to all service providers it will use during the tournament, making sure they “meet the new compliance standards in a socially responsible manner.”

A banner depicting Wales captain Gareth Bale hangs alongside a building in Doha.

A banner depicting Wales captain Gareth Bale hangs alongside a building in Doha. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys / AFP / Getty Images

This control over the direct impact of the FA is expected to continue throughout the tournament. “The players will continue to work with the FA to ensure that every possible measure is taken to ensure that they do not contribute to the damage through their participation in the World Cup and that, in the event of damage, there is access to an effective remedy,” he says. PFA co-CEO Kathryn Gill, a former Matilda player.

Related: Human rights violations in Qatar “persist on a significant scale,” the Amnesty report said

Sources familiar with the FA’s internal dynamics have indicated that its membership of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is a complicating factor. Unlike European football federations, which have limited ongoing engagement with their Middle Eastern counterparts, Australian officials and teams interact and play regularly against their Qatari counterparts and neighboring nations. Speaking out loud now could cause political headaches in the future, further marginalizing the FA within AFC circles.

But that didn’t stop the players. Guardian Australia understands that the Socceroos will release a joint statement ahead of the tournament, highlighting ongoing labor rights and human rights concerns associated with Qatar 2022. “FA, PFA and players will have more to say before the tournament starts,” confirmed the spokesperson for the FA

“Talking about a position is always a risk, but as union members we know we have support,” says Socceroos captain Mat Ryan. “We are supporting the same things we value as players: respect and dignity as a worker. We want to ensure that football is a positive force and this means that we have to do our part to ensure that this is the case. “

Nor, according to Irvine, will it be the last. “We all have a role to play and as players we have focused on how we can make an impact,” he says. “We know that public pressure has helped facilitate change and workers have asked us to keep the pressure up. As a country that plays regularly in the region, we have a responsibility to continue to do so, not just now but after the final whistle of the World Cup. “

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