The Socceroos have become the first World Cup side to stage a collective protest against next month’s World Cup hosts Qatar.
Concerned about the nations human rights record, including their treatment of foreign workers and restrictions on the LGBTQI+ community, the Socceroos released a video message with 16 players reading lines from a collective statement.
These players have the support of the wider squad, while Football Australia later released a separate statement which said: “The tournament has been associated with suffering for some migrant workers and their families and this cannot be ignored.”
It is arguably the strongest unified position taken by any nation participating in the World Cup so far, although players and officials from some rivals have spoken out over the controversial decision to award the Middle Eastern nation the rights to the flagship tournament.
This follows almost two years of consultations between the Socceroos, the players’ union, and Football Australia with a number of global organisations, including the International Labor Organization and Amnesty International, organizing bodies FIFA and FIFPRO (the worldwide players’ organization), and even the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
They even spoke directly to migrant workers on the ground in Qatar.
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Why the Socceroos are taking a stand | 14:57
“Solving these problems is not easy. And we don’t have all the answers,” the Australian players said.
“We stand with FIFPro, Building and Wood Workers’ International and the International Trade Union Confederation, seeking to anchor reforms and establish a lasting legacy in Qatar. This must include the creation of a resource center for migrants, an effective remedy for those who have been deprived of their rights and the decriminalization of all same-sex relationships.
“These are the fundamental rights that should be granted to all and will ensure continued progress in Qatar… [and] a legacy that goes far beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
The Socceroos have acknowledged that in the decade since winning accommodation rights, the extremely conservative nation has implemented a number of reforms to improve conditions for migrant workers.
Nonetheless, the Australians said Qatar, which hosts the World Cup, has “caused countless of our colleagues suffering and harm”.
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The exact number of deaths of migrant workers building stadiums and other major tournament infrastructure over the past decade has been hotly debated.
The tournament’s organizing committee claimed that only three migrant workers died at the stadiums’ construction site. But an independent report from the International Labor Organization – one of the bodies that briefed the players – found that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 alone, and more than 500 seriously injured.
Last year, The Guardian reported that more than 6,500 workers from five countries (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) died in Qatar between 2010 and mid-2020. He added that the total death toll would be significantly higher than this reported figure, given that a number of countries that sent large numbers of workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and Kenya, were not included in the data. Many deaths are likely linked to the heat and oppressive conditions in Qatar.
But the Socceroos say ‘These migrant workers who have suffered are not just numbers’.
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Another key issue is the country’s hardline stance on same-sex relationships and the LGBTQI+ community. But in Qatar, “people are not free to love whoever they choose,” the players said.
Football Australia’s statement added: “As our country’s most multicultural, diverse and inclusive sport, we believe everyone should be able to feel safe and be authentic themselves.
“While we acknowledge the highest levels of assurance given by His Highness Amir of Qatar and the President of FIFA that LGBTI+ fans will be welcomed safely to Qatar, we hope this openness can continue beyond the tournament. .”
The captains of nine European nations, including top teams like England, France and Germany, will wear rainbow armbands with the message ‘One Love’ to protest against Qatar’s strict laws on LGBTQI+ communities, including restrictions on same-sex relationships.
Professional Footballers Australia issued a statement acknowledging the “real progress” made on the issue of workers’ rights in Qatar, but “we have learned that the World Cup has been associated with terrible suffering and harm for the very people who made the tournament possible – migrant workers.
“As one of 32 nations to qualify, we recognize that the players will receive incredible hospitality and warmth when playing in Qatar,” the statement read.
“But at the same time, members of the LGBTI+ community in Qatar do not enjoy the same respect in their own country.
“The players spoke today about what they have learned and what they feel is necessary to leave a positive legacy.
“They know what values define our sport when it is at its best and they know that the impact football has on people should be universally positive.
“They also know that when those values are absent, or if football has caused harm, they have a platform to take a stand.
“Gamers recognize that their views may not be universally popular.
“Some will think they haven’t gone far enough while others will call on them to stick to football and stay out of ‘politics’ when it is a matter of rights of man.
“This polarity speaks volumes about the courage of players and also about the increasingly fractured nature of the world.”