World Cup in Qatar: Fifa cannot ignore human rights issues – Scotsman comment

Last week Gianni Infantino, the president of world football's governing body Fifa, sent an email to the 32 nations taking part in the World Cup, urging them to "let football take centre stage" when the tournament kicks off a week tomorrow in Qatar.

The specially built Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, will host several World Cup matches (Picture: Qatar 2022/Supreme Committee via Getty Images)
The specially built Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, will host several World Cup matches (Picture: Qatar 2022/Supreme Committee via Getty Images)

"Please, let's now focus on the football!" said the email, which was quickly leaked to Sky News. "One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity. No one people or culture or nation is 'better' than any other," he said.

We disagree. We think there could have been many "better" nations to host the world's biggest sporting event. Nations with stadiums built already, for instance, with a long-standing love of the sport. Nations that, unlike Qatar, had a track record of democracy, rights for minority groups and respect for migrant workers.

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Perhaps Infantino, a Swiss-Italian who now lives in Qatar, was always bound to issue those platitudes. The football calendar – and all tradition – has already been torn up to enable the competition, worth $5 billion to Fifa, to take place there. Many fans are furious.

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Let us hope the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar – and of the 2018 edition to Russia – will come to be seen as the high water mark of a school of sporting geopolitics that sought to treat all nations equally, even those with standards of human rights far beneath those of the rest of the world. There was a naive belief that showpiece sport occasions could, somehow, be improving, rather than an easy way to launder a nation's reputation without engaging in the difficult work of actual reform.

Qatar could, reasonably, have argued it has changed, despite the dead and disappearing migrant workers and the revolting views of its sporting ambassadors around homosexuality. But we might counter that reform should have happened before a successful bid.

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Alas, that was too much to hope for. So we will keep on talking about the difficult things, including human rights, as well as the sport. And we will salute those – including England manager Gareth Southgate – who look beyond their own sporting concerns to also talk about the moral morass that surrounds the beautiful game.

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