The latest round of international soccer fixtures has seen controversy over the upcoming World Cup in Qatar intensify as Norway players wore T-shirts reading ‘Human rights on and off the pitch’ in the build-up of their qualifier against Gibraltar this week.
Several top division clubs in Norway have suggested over the past few weeks that the national team boycott the 2022 FIFA World Cup because of the conditions migrant workers have faced in Qatar.
The Guardian reported last month that more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country won the right to host the global tournament back in 2010.
“The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population. However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country,” the Qatari government said in a statement by a spokesperson provided in response to the Guardian story.
The controversial decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup saw them beat out the US and Australia, with the tournament having to be moved into November and December for the first time due to the intense heat.
“It’s about putting pressure on FIFA to be even more direct, even firmer with the authorities in Qatar, to impose stricter requirements,” Norway manager Stale Solbakken said before the game against Gibraltar.
Captain Martin Odegaard, currently playing on-loan for the English Premier League’s Arsenal, added: “I have the impression that a lot of (players) are interested in this, care about it and want to do something to try and contribute in a good way.”
The Norwegian Football Association (NFF) has now set up a committee to look into the concerns of players and officials across the country, while the Netherlands Football Federation released a statement this week on the subject.
The NFF’s committee consists of six women and eight men, with the NFF claiming it contains “a broad composition of people in and outside football, with different voices in the debate and with important professional competence in the issues the committee is to assess”.
According to the association, the committee has been set up with the aim of determining what the country “should do to respond to Qatar’s handling of human rights in the country, including studying, assessing and setting on which instrument Norwegian football shall use for its reaction”.
Netherlands head coach Frank de Boer said taking part in Qatar if they qualify for the World Cup “can better promote the cause”, but added that talks about boycotting the event are justified.
“A lot of attention is now focused on whether we should go there if we qualify,” he said before their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign started with a surprise 4-2 defeat by Turkey on Wednesday.
“It is right to ask that question. Everyone knows that what is happening there is not good.”
After the game FIFA said that Norway will not face “disciplinary proceedings” for the protest.
“Fifa believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good,” a statement said.
Amnesty International weighed in on the issue this week, calling on FIFA to make sure Qatar honour the labour reforms they promised to deliver before the tournament.
In a four-page letter to Fifa president Gianni Infantino, the human rights organisation said “urgent and concrete action” was needed.
In response, the Qatar government said it “is committed to working closely with its international partners, including Amnesty International, to protect all workers and ensure the new laws are effectively implemented and enforced”.
The Football Association said in a statement that it recognizes there was “evidence of some progress” in improvements of conditions for migrants, but said there was still more work to be done.
“We are working closely with all to ensure that, if we qualify, we approach our participation in the upcoming World Cup in a socially responsible manner,” it added.
Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter has this week been given a new ban of six years and eight months from football, the game’s global governing body has announced.
The ban has been imposed for multiple breaches of Fifa’s ethics code and comes into force when a current suspension ends in October, Fifa said
A statement from Fifa read: “The investigations into Messrs Blatter and Valcke covered various charges, in particular concerning bonus payments in relation to Fifa competitions that were paid to top Fifa management officials, various amendments and extensions of employment contracts, as well as reimbursement by Fifa of private legal costs in the case of Mr. Valcke.”
Blatter said in a statement released by his spokesman Thomas Renggli that it was a “painful and incomprehensible blow” and added: “The ethics committee in its current form has nothing to do with an independent body – it is much more the extended arm of the Fifa president [Gianni Infantino] and not much more than a ‘parallel justice’.”