Australia’s FIFA World Cup Team First to Collectively Back Workers, LGBT Rights

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The Australian national soccer team, the Socceroos, pose for a photo before the start of a game in Brisbane, Australia, September 22, 2022.
© 2022 Dan Peled/AP Photo

Australia’s national men’s football team, the Socceroos, just became the first FIFA World Cup side to collectively speak up on human rights issues in Qatar. In a powerful video released on October 27, sixteen current and former Australian players, supported by the broader playing group, expressed their solidarity with migrant workers and LGBT people, making it clear that “universal values like dignity, trust, respect and courage should define football values.”

Players correctly assessed the situation in Qatar, where important reforms have been introduced but require better implementation. More importantly, they acknowledged that the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar resulted in preventable suffering and harm to “countless migrant workers,” who are not covered by recent reforms.  

FIFA did not require Qatar to make labor rights commitments for the millions of migrant workers that FIFA knew Qatar would need to build the World Cup infrastructure.

“These migrant workers who suffered are not just numbers. Like the migrants that have shaped our country and our football, they possessed the same courage and determination to build a better life,” said president of the players union and former Socceroos player Alex Wilkinson 

In the video, the Socceroos strongly endorsed an effective remedy for migrant workers who have been denied their rights, supporting a migrant workers center and the decriminalization of all same-sex relationships.

Qatari authorities responded to the video insisting that “no country is perfect,” and that “Protecting the health, safety, security and dignity of every worker contributing to this World Cup is our priority.” But they fell short of committing to set up a remedy fund for workers who faced abuses because reforms came too late or were weakly implemented.  

In May, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, and a global coalition of rights groups, unions, and fans, launched the #PayUpFIFA campaign, demanding FIFA provide financial compensation for serious abuses against migrant workers, including deaths, injuries, unpaid wages, and exorbitant recruitment costs.

By endorsing the remedy call, the Socceroos join seven other football associations, as well as sponsors, political leaders, and fans.

Unprecedented, bold acts of solidarity by both current and former Australian football players have set an important example. FIFA should follow up by announcing it will make right the abuses it has both enabled and will profit from.

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