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Should we be boycotting the World Cup in Qatar?

You certainly don’t have to be a football fan to love the World Cup. The national mood soars, the pub gardens are booked to the brim, and ‘Three Lions’ ends up stuck in the heads of even the most reluctant onlooker. I don’t claim to be a football enthusiast on any level, but I have to admit that I always find myself caught up in the excitement surrounding tournaments such as the World Cup or the Euros. 

Why is it, then, that this year’s upcoming Fifa World Cup has been embroiled in controversy and protest? Simply put, the host country, Qatar, has a troubling human rights record that has cast a large shadow over any excitement for the event. 

This record includes strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws that illegalize same-sex relationships; punishments range from fines to prison time, and even death. Qatar has also come under fire for its alleged mistreatment of migrant workers, with reports of deaths due to overwork, and people not receiving their salaries. 

In a recent letter from Fifa sent to all nations competing at the world cup, the teams were asked to “now focus on the football”. The letter was, rightly so, received with backlash. It is surely not realistic to expect players and fans to rejoice in the tournament with such a concerning backdrop of human rights violations. 

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, made headlines after declaring that he and his party will not be attending or supporting the World Cup. No such official position has been stated by the Conservatives. It would certainly be comforting to know that the members of our leading party are staying at home, working on the multitude of crises facing the UK rather than jetting off to a controversial sporting event for their pleasure. 

Furthermore, recent comments made by former Fifa president Sepp Platter added fuel to the fire, stating that appointing Qatar as the host country was a “bad choice”. He continued to say that, since the selection, “social considerations and human rights are taking into account,” thereby acknowledging that Qatar is a problematic choice.

The World Cup is the most high-profile example of recent, so-called ‘sportswashing’ endeavours, made by countries with bad reputations in order to increase their popularity on a global scale. Another case is the upcoming Diriyah Tennis Cup in Saudi Arabia, which has been condemned by Amnesty International. UK player Cameron Norrie, amongst other high-profile players, has signed up for the event. In his defence, Norrie stated that he is “not a politician” and doesn’t feel that it is his place to get “involved with individual government politics.”

Unfortunately, these kinds of events go beyond politics and sport. Sir Keir Starmer is on the right track; to boycott these events is to agree that we do not condone cruel and inhuman policies.

FIFA World Cup Trophy” by warrenski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.