Human rights will be under the spotlight during World Cup in Qatar — as they should be

The game, as is famously said, is beautiful.

For Canada, appearing in our first men’s soccer World Cup since 1986, the occasion is undeniably thrilling.

But with the tournament that starts Sunday taking place in Qatar, politics will — and should — play a big part in the quadrennial spectacle.

The hosts and FIFA would prefer the world focus on the soccer, that ballet of the streets, and forget the world beyond the pitches.

That would be a lost opportunity.

The promoters of sports always sell them under labels that go far beyond mere play. Sport, they say, builds character, forges unity and teamwork, requires commitment and sacrifice.

When the games are framed in terms of values, they can hardly be conducted without values ​​being discussed.

After recent Olympics were held in Russia and China, it would be easy to shrug and conclude that international contests trump values ​​and money trumps everything.

Qatar has paid hundreds of billions of dollars to host the global tournament and grab all the promotional attention that goes with it. It should also pay the price of having the world’s spotlight shone on its many human rights failings.

Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and the rights of migrant workers are little more than a mirage in the tiny country. And, laudably, some big European soccer nations pushed back when FIFA president Gianni Infantino urged them to hush up and “let football take the stage.”

The US, for instance, posted rainbow-themed badges at its training facility to show support for the LGBTQ community.

Regrettably, Canada — co-host of the 2026 World Cup — was not especially vocal.

Along with their other swag, journalists covering the games will receive a 42-page guide from Human Rights Watchwhich says the legacy of Qatar will depend on whether the country addresses the injuries and deaths of thousands of migrant workers who built the World Cup stadiums and facilities, and protects human rights for all its citizens.

International groups want FIFA to commit $440 million (US) for a repairs fund for workers — the same amount that will go in prize money to the 32 teams.

FIFA would prefer that not be discussed.

In 2021, Human Rights Watch chronicled how Qatari laws and practices imposed discriminatory male guardianship rules that deny women the right to make basic decisions.

FIFA would prefer that not be discussed.

Qatar’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex relations.

FIFA would prefer that not be discussed.

Qatar’s penal code also restricts freedom of expression and press freedom, criminalizing criticism of the emir and insults to the flag or religion.

FIFA would prefer that not be discussed.

But speaking up is vital. And it’s not just human rights groups that are finding cause to do so.

Former soccer superstar David Beckham, for instance, has come under criticism for reportedly accepting 10 million pounds to serve as an ambassador for the Qatar World Cup.

In calling him to account, British comic Joe Lycett may have become the first man-of-the-match for Qatar 2022.

Lycett called Beckham’s decision a kick in the teeth for the gay community that had long considered him an icon.

“You were the first premiership footballer to do shoots with gay magazines like Attitude, to speak openly about your gay fans, and you married a Spice Girl, which is the gayest thing a human being can do.”

If Beckham ended his relationship with Qatar, Lycett said he’d donate “ten grand of my own money (that’s a grand for every million you’re reportedly getting) to charities that support queer people in football.”

Let the games begin — and such conversations rage.


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