English Football Should Stand for Rights as World Cup Approaches

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The England National Football Team line up before the UEFA Nations League match between Germany and England at Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany, June 7, 2022.
© 2022 Paul Chesterton/Focus Images/Sipa via AP Images

Rights groups, activists, and fans have rightly criticized the decision of FIFA, football’s international governing body, to award the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar, citing the country’s serious human rights violations. These include the mistreatment of migrant workers, who have suffered terrible abuse, even unexplained deaths, in delivering the tournament, restrictions on women’s rights, and repression of LGBT people’s rights.

Qatar has finally introduced promising labor reforms in the last few years, but these have been weakly enforced. The #PayUpFIFA campaign by Human Rights Watch and other organizations is calling on FIFA and Qatar to provide remedy for abuses against migrant workers, including deaths, injuries, and wage theft since 2010 when Qatar was awarded hosting rights. The United Kingdom’s two largest trade unions, Unite and Unison, are supporting this call.

Yet with the World Cup fast approaching, the English Football Association has yet to take a clear position.

While controversies persist, many English football clubs now strive to create a diverse and inclusive environment. The recent triumph by England’s women’s team at the European Championships prominently shows how footballers can change the game. But these values espoused by English clubs are at odds with Qatar’s regressive laws.

The Premier League, England’s top tier of football, has enjoyed close collaboration with anti-racism and LGBT rights groups like Kick It Out and Stonewall. And in June this year, Watford FC canceled an exhibition match with the Qatar national team over fans’ concerns about the country’s human rights record.

But it isn’t only English club teams that have used the football pitch as a platform. In 2020, the England men’s national team manager, Gareth Southgate, wrote a powerful open letter to fans defending his players’ right to use their platform for social change.

The Football Association’s push to create a better legacy for the games is commendable, but the World Cup is less than 100 days away and it hasn’t taken a firm position against abuse in Qatar. The Association should build on England men’s captain Harry Kane’s call for a unified stand on human rights and publicly request FIFA to remedy migrant worker abuses, including through financial compensation. A bold stance will set an example for young fans across the country, both on and off the pitch.

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