The Socceroos have become the first World Cup team to mount a collective protest against next month’s World Cup hosts Qatar.
Concerned with the nations’ human rights record including their treatment of foreign workers and restrictions on the LGBTQI+ community, the Socceroos have released a video message with 16-players reading lines from a collective statement.
Those players have the support of the broader squad, while Football Australia subsequently released a separate statement which declares: “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 stance taken so far by a nation competing at the World Cup, though players and officials from some rivals have spoken out about the controversial decision to award the Middle Eastern nation the rights to the showpiece tournament.
It follows almost two years of consultations between the Socceroos, players’ union, and Football Australia with a number of global organisations including International Labour Organisation and Amnesty International, organising bodies FIFA and FIFPRO (the global players organisation), and even Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy.
They have even spoken directly to migrant workers on the ground in Qatar.
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“Addressing these issues is not easy. And we do not have all the answers,” the Australian players said.
“We stand with FIFPro, the Building and Wood Workers International, and the International Trade Union Confederation, seeking to embed reforms and establish a lasting legacy in Qatar. This must include establishing a migrant resource centre, effective remedy for those who have been denied their rights, and the decriminalisation of all same-sex relationships.
“These are the basic rights that should be afforded to all and will ensure continued progress in Qatar … [and] a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
The Socceroos acknowledged that in the decade since winning hosting rights, the extremely conservative nation has implemented a number of reforms to improve conditions for migrant workers.
Nevertheless, the Australians said Qatar hosting the World Cup has “resulted in the suffering and the harm of countless of our fellow workers.”
The exact number of deaths of migrant workers building the stadiums and other major infrastructure for the tournament over the last decade has been fiercely debated.
The tournament’s organising committee has claimed just three migrant workers have died on-site building stadiums. But an independent report from the International Labor Organisation – one of the bodies that briefed the players – found 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 alone, with more than 500 severely injured.
Last year, The Guardian reported that over 6,500 workers from five nations (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) died in Qatar between 2010 and mid-2020. It added the total death toll would be significantly higher than that reported figure, given a number of nations who sent large numbers of workers to Qatar, including Philippines and Kenya, were not included in the data. Many of the deaths are likely linked to the heat and oppresive 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 hard-line stance on single-sex relationships and the LGBTQI+ community. But in Qatar, “people are not free to love the person that they choose,” the players said.
Football Australia’s statement added: “As the most multicultural, diverse, and inclusive sport in our country, we believe everyone should be able to feel safe and be their true authentic selves.
“Whilst we acknowledge the highest levels of assurances given by HH Amir of Qatar and the President of FIFA that LGBTI+ fans will be safely welcomed in Qatar, we hope that this openness can continue beyond the tournament.”
Captains from nine European nations, including top sides like England, France and Germany, will wear rainbow armbands with the message “One Love” to protest Qatar’s strict laws policing LGBTQI+ communities including restrictions on same-sex relationships.
Professional Footballers Australia released a statement acknowledging the “genuine 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 that have made the tournament possible – the migrant workers.”
“As one of the 32 nations to qualify, we acknowledge that the players will receive incredible hospitality and warmth when they play in Qatar,” the statement read.
“But at the same time, those within the LGBTI+ community in Qatar are not afforded that same respect in their own country.
“The players have spoken today about what they have learned and what they feel is required to deliver a positive legacy.
“They know what values define our sport when it is at its best and they know that football’s impact 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 make a stand.
“The players recognise that their views may not be universally popular.
“Some will believe they have not gone far enough whilst others will call on them to stick to football and stay out of “politics”, despite this being a matter of human rights.
“This polarity says much about the courage of the players and also the increasingly fractured nature of the world.”
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