The ‘Play the Game’ conference yesterday (27/06/22) heard speakers describe how the Qatar organisers of the FIFA World Cup tried to use media control to handle human rights and ‘sports-washing’ accusations.
Benjamin Best, a journalist, was one of a number of attendees who said that media coverage of human rights abuses had led the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is responsible for the delivery of the tournament, down a defensive path rather than engaging in solving the problem.
Best outlined that this focus on fighting media coverage was evident during a December visit to Qatar. “Two jeeps followed me around for three days,” he said. He also produced evidence that Qatar is still trying to shield its 2022 migrant workers from the world’s gaze. A state directive states that all migrant workers should leave Qatar during the World Cup. Best told Play the Game that the directive does not make it clear if they will receive their due wages before being asked to leave, he said.
But there was also a conference debate about whether the media spotlight on Qatar was a sign of bias and bigotry, as other countries have also been guilty of ‘sportwashing’.
‘Sportwashing is nothing new,’ said Jesper Møller, Chairman of the Danish Football Union (DBU). ‘One reason it is more prominent is that diplomacy has changed”, said Dorsey. “Diplomacy is no longer diplomats, pinstripes and foreign ministries. It’s cultural. It’s public. It’s sports.’ He added that what was needed was a definition as to what constitutes ‘sportwashing’.
James Corbett, journalist and moderator, pointed out a report about worker abuse in the Financial Times, which involved a whistleblower who was afraid to lose her job through speaking out about low wages, hours being cut at short notice, sexism, racism, homophobia and bullying. The company, Noma. The country? Denmark. Should Denmark be stripped of the right to bid to host the UEFA 2025 Women’s European Championships?
‘Each country should have the right to host a tournament, so long as they do it under a human rights framework,’ argued Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
‘Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FairSquare and more than a dozen global unions, fans, human rights and labour groups, are asking FIFA and Qatar to set aside a multi-million dollar legacy fund to compensate workers and their families, and to improve protections with a prominent migrant workers centre,’ said Worden.
Worden pointed out that when it moved the 2022 World Cup to winter, FIFA recognised the dangers of exertion in 50 degrees heat. Yet migrant workers were expected to continue to labour in such heat. ‘There was no concern about them,’ she said. She pointed out that one of the last actions of former FIFA President Sepp Blatter was to commission professor John Ruggie and Shift to conduct a human rights assessment.
* Play the Game is an initiative run by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies (Idan) that aims at raising the ethical standards of sport and promoting democracy, transparency, and freedom of expression in world sport.