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Own Goal! Europe's Protests Over Qatar's Human Rights

By Kanika Datta
October 26, 2022 11:44 IST
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The rumblings of discontent from Righteous Europe over Qatar's admittedly appalling human rights record can only be viewed as deeply disingenuous and phoney, argues Kanika Datta.

IMAGE: Members of the Swiss UNIA workers union display red cards and shout slogans during a protest at FIFA headquarters. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

FIFA officials were unambiguously involved in all kinds of shenanigans so that Qatar won the rights to the 2022 World Cup football. But the outrage over the questionable award of hosting rights to the Arab dictatorship subsided well before the ground was broken for the first new stadiums in the kingdom.

Ignoring protests from club managers, FIFA even altered the busy European footballing calendar from the traditional June/July to a November/December scheduling to accommodate the host nation.

 

IMAGE: Belgium fans display a banner in regard to the Qatar World Cup breaching human rights. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Now, with less than a month to go before the tournament begins, the rumblings of discontent from Righteous Europe over Qatar's admittedly appalling human rights record are growing in volume.

In an early kick-off, the Danish team released a 'faded' sponsorship logo on its jersey because its sponsor 'does not want to be visible in tournaments that cost lives'.

With homosexuality illegal in Qatar, eight of the 32 teams have petitioned FIFA to wear 'rainbow armbands'.

Whole cities have clambered on to this campaign platform.

London has declared that it will not host 'fan zones' or public screenings of matches.

Paris and several other French cities have made similar announcements.

BBC quoted the mayor of Lille as describing this year's World Cup as 'nonsense in terms of human rights, the environment and sport'.

IMAGE: View of a t-shirt worn by Norwegian players during the warm up with a message about human rights prior to World Cup 2022 qualifying match between Norway and Turkey at the La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga, Spain. Photograph: Fran Santiago/Getty Images

Pardon me for a cynical snigger, but isn't all this a classic pot and kettle situation? Forget most of Europe's frightful colonial record that ended less than a century ago (Denmark being an honourable exception), its own concern for human right this past decade scarcely passes muster as it flails about in search of ways to block the entry of refugees fleeing conflicts rooted in the West's historical acts of omission and commission.

The immigrant question lay at the heart of Brexit, and the Conservative government's plan to deport them to Rwanda is still very much in the policy mix.

Italy pays North African countries for patrol boats and related infrastructure to prevent people fleeing civil wars and drought to cross the Mediterranean.

Hungary has declared itself a 'Christian country' and put up electric fences to block a land route into Europe from Islamic countries.

The EU once tried to work out a visa-for-refugee deal with Turkey offering Turks easier travel regulations within the EU plus some funds, provided Ankara kept 2 million-plus Syrian refugees within its borders.

Swathes of countries from France and Sweden to Germany and Poland are swinging to the right on account of this one issue.

IMAGE: German footballers wear t-shirts which spell out 'Human Rights' prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Germany and Iceland. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz - Pool/Getty Images

It is possible to argue that policies to keep refugees out of Europe is not the same as the horrendous death toll of 6,500 migrant workers, mostly from South Asia in the decade since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010.

Some 37 of these deaths, according to The Guardian, are directly related to the World Cup construction. But nit-picking over the degree of human rights abuse is no argument.

Ask the parents of children drowned in perilous sea crossings; men tortured and women raped by corrupt border guards and cheated of life savings by people smugglers.

That's one part of the argument. The second is that European football associations and by extension their governments have had no objection to accepting West Asian money to bankroll their star football clubs.

The Lille mayor's wholesale condemnation of the Qatar World Cup is a little thick considering France's biggest club, PSG, is owned by a prominent Qatari family.

Manchester City wins the English Premier League with almost clockwork regularity thanks to the humungous investments by the UAE's Sheikh Mansour.

Underwhelming Newcastle United recently became Europe's richest club after it was acquired by a Saudi Arabia-led consortium, including that country's sovereign wealth fund.

In the opaque world of West Asian business all these owners are connected to the ruling families. None of the above can be considered beacons of human rights protection.

Come to think of it, Chelsea became an EPL topper thanks to the colossal amounts of money one of Vladimir Putin's chief cronies, Roman Abramovich, poured into it for almost a decade. He was ejected only when Mr Putin invaded Ukraine.

Putin's equally illegal occupation of the Crimea in 2014 did not prevent FIFA from hosting the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

No team wore faded sponsor shirts, rainbow armbands and no city banned public viewings of matches, though Russia could give any West Asian nation a run for its money when it comes to oppressing people.

The Union of European Football Associations also sees no problem accommodating resource-rich Asian nations such as Israel, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia in its tournaments, though none of these nations can be described as beacons of human rights.

Qatar's multiple transgressions should never be ignored.

All human rights abuses should be condemned in the strongest possible terms -- a shout-out here for the EPL's energetic 'No Room for Racism' campaign each season. But when Europe applies the principle so selectively, this collective outbreak of virtue can only be viewed as deeply disingenuous and phoney.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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