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FIFA and UEFA cannot avoid their political duties

Issues of equality in Qatar and Russia

icon fifamoney7 February ~ "UEFA is apolitical," its president, Michel Platini, claimed when responding to criticism of their decision to award the 2013 European Under-21 Championship to Israel. Perhaps Israel was not a wise choice for a body that wishes to stay clear of politics. Given that he's tipped as the man to take over the Sepp Blatter's FIFA mantle in 2015, Platini should get used to the idea of politics interfering with sport. With Russia and Qatar as his first two World Cup hosts, political issues will be thumping on to his desk with the force and regularity of a riot policeman's cosh.

Most football fans hope that somewhere there exists a smoking gun that will cause FIFA to reverse its decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. But despite the 15-page feature in France Football last week that once again threw into question the legality of the bidding process, and numerous well-documented reasons why Qatar is an execrable choice, we're stuck with the unlikely Middle East venue. As long as that remains the case, the focus will begin to shift towards what can only be described as political issues.

In Qatar, these have so far concentrated on the pay, conditions and rights of the migrant construction workers who will be building the World Cup infrastructure. FIFA have promised to put pressure on the Qatari government to improve what Human Rights Watch, in its 2013 report on the country published last week, called "an opportunity to apply international pressure on Qatar to improve conditions for migrant workers". These often involve long hours, low wages, insanitary working and living conditions, and passports confiscated by employers. There is also the freedom of speech issue, rarely tested by a compliant local media, but a young poet, Muhammad al-Ajami, who recited some lines lauding the Tunisian revolution to a small private gathering of friends, has been locked up for over a year for allegedly insulting the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. He has been charged with "inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime", which can carry the death penalty.

Aside from the small matters of not being a democracy, the lack of freedom of speech and the trampling of workers' rights, there are other problems with Qatar – Israelis are barred from entering the country and homosexuality is banned. Gay rights are going to be a problem in Russia as well. Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, the Russians seem intent on turning back the clock by passing new legislation that would prosecute anyone deemed to be "promoting" homosexuality to under 18s. Many gay rights protesters who demonstrated last month against the proposed legislation (which took a first step towards implementation with a vote of 388 in favour, one against, and one abstention) were beaten up by far-right counter-demonstrators while police looked on and failed to intervene.

FIFA and Platini will be well advised not to pretend that these issues have no connection with football. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people have the right to play and watch the game just like everyone else. They also boast a strong platform to lobby the public, pressurise sponsors and push FIFA towards forcing the hand of an errant World Cup host. Should FIFA be using its influence to strong-arm a country into political change? As long as that pressure supports the notion of its Fair Play slogan and the anti-discrimination rhetoric of its statutes, the answer must be "Yes". And if the majority of fans support such campaigns, as so many continue to do with anti-racism initiatives, then the process becomes irreversible, while at the same time bigotry is gradually seen as unacceptable at best.

Last week in the US, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver made homophobic remarks ahead of the Superbowl, saying that he wouldn't want to share a dressing room with a gay team-mate. There was barely time for outraged reaction to register before he was apologising profusely and recanting every word. "Hopefully I learn and grow from this experience and this situation," Culliver said. In Qatar, the imprisoned poet Al-Ajami is defended by his lawyer, Najeeb al-Nuaimi, a former Qatari justice minister, who believes that linking civil rights with his country's fitness to host sporting events is important. "It matters," he said, according to the BBC. "We are making reform around the Arab world. Why don't we do it ourselves? We have to reform our society, our legal system, our political system. Then we can stand for any events around the world." Qatar is reportedly shaping up to bid for the 2024 Olympics.

Any progress in the field of host countries embarking on genuine political change will depend on how much administrators like Platini face up to the reality that football is not just there to put a smile on people's faces in a world spuriously united by sporting values. If FIFA can use its political clout to make a difference for the better instead of paying lip service to the concept of equality, then it may be less subject to criticism that its interest in any given country is purely commercial. "FIFA is political," Platini might say at the end of a 2022 World Cup in an open, democratic Qatar. "And we're proud of it." Ian Plenderleith

On the subject...

Comment on 07-02-2013 14:50:31 by geobra #760034
So what will happen if Israel qualify for the 2022 finals?

And there's another point - the heat in Qatar in June. Surely it would only take the big hitters - Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Germany, England, Spain, France, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Uruguay and maybe others I have forgotten - to say that they will not enter unless it is moved to January and MEAN IT, and FIFA would be forced to move it to the winter. These countries could even threaten to organise a 'mini World Cup' of their own. The alternative is the very real possibility of a player dying if the tournament is held in June.
Comment on 07-02-2013 16:19:07 by Coral #760064
Geobra, they are likely to have air conditioned stadiums, playing in 50 degrees will just not happen because it physically can't

On the article, I am not sure that FIFA or UEFA have a duty to change or pressure politics. However they do have a duty to make sure that people can watch their team. I have to friends who, looking at the way legislation is going, will be married by 2022. If they want to go and watch some international games they can't. And possibly will miss out on 2018. It is a different issue with racism and the issues that are likely to come of getting to Russia. That is between fans and the people of the country. But actual laws banning people from entry is a different kettle of fish. They are welcome to have such laws if that is what their electorate want, or what they feel is what they want, whether it is something we agree with or not. But it should preclude them from holding a global gathering of people.
Comment on 07-02-2013 17:22:05 by geobra #760088
Coral, and that is why the World Cup should not be held in Qatar in June. It should not be necessary to create artificial conditions to make it possible to play. In any case, the teams will also need air conditioned training facilities. Nobody would suggest that the World Cup should be held in the Antarctic, but this, substituting heat for cold, is the equivalent.

Any country bidding to host the World Cup should give a binding written undertaking that no team that qualifies, or its fans, male and female, will be barred entry. If they don't they should be disqualified from the bidding process. Have Qatar given such an undertaking?
Comment on 07-02-2013 18:14:06 by donedmundo #760101
Russia is bad enough but Qatar is bonkers.
The prospect of air-conditioning a stadium (presumably roofed) with 40,000 fans inside is a non starter.
There is no point in awarding the tournament (which is always held June and July) and then to start talking about moving it to December and January. That should have been sorted out long before the voting.
How are the major European leagues going to react to having a one month break in the season? This should also have been sorted out beforehand.
What is it about Qatar that so attracted FIFA, Could it be the sand? the palm trees? more sand? the long footballing history? or, just a thought, money. The whole thing reeks of corruption.
Never mind the players, the quality of football played, the fans etc. You can bet that FIFA will emerge £xxx million better off.
Comment on 07-02-2013 21:38:27 by geobra #760152
Perhaps instead of the Antarctic, a better parallel is Siberia. In December and January. It would be laughed out of court, as Qatar in June should have been.
Comment on 08-02-2013 09:56:29 by Coral #760254
I said on the day it was announced that it would go to Qatar I would quit football and take no further interest in it. I am back though watching and enjoying it. Presumably the bodies that be are hoping everyone else will be as fickle as me and just roll with it when it is played in Winter. Thing is, they could play it in the Artic in Winter or death valley in Summer and we would still watch it. Like the protests that start in a pub with a walk to the ground as normal, they will take little notice sadly.

As for why it is in Qatar, who knows? It was most likely because they thought it was the best place. Let's just assume that and get back to watching football and the new exciting team PSG creeping into the world's best with lots of new found wealth.
Comment on 08-02-2013 10:14:01 by Sanchez_82 #760272
Like Coral, I've tried to quit football several times in the last couple of years. I attempted to find another sport to enjoy but it turns out when you get to elite level in sport it's mostly run by shady billionaires, governed by incompetents and the competitors are ruthless bastards with nothing interesting to say. So to heck with it, football it is, there's alwasy next season anyway.........
Comment on 08-02-2013 11:52:32 by Coral #760345
Lovely article in The Times the other day by the chief writer saying that those in power must have loved the game once. They must have gone to grounds or played the sport and loved it. Then somewhere along the line they got the power and suddenly it wasn't about love and enjoyment anymore. Think it goes across all sports as you say. Cricket is one of the worst, football is up there and Olympics possibly one of the best although that is after the Salt Lake watershed moment.
Comment on 08-02-2013 16:24:55 by Agasphere #760452
In Qatar, they are working on a project aimed to screen the fields and players from the sun with huge flat flying blimps (lighter than air)... :)
Comment on 09-02-2013 01:13:05 by Alex Walker #760580
I do love the thought of Israel qualifying and FIFA having to deal with the fallout of that. I think that it's safe to say no one would accept a country that qualified not being allowed to take their place in the finals.
Comment on 09-02-2013 08:24:48 by Duncan Gardner #760608
Isn't there a precedent from Euro 92?
Comment on 09-02-2013 09:08:20 by Diable Rouge #760619
Unless there's a separatist schism in the Holy Land, the parallels wouldn't quite match up, DG.
Comment on 10-02-2013 11:42:54 by Nefertiti2 #760816
The idea of Israel qualifying and then being not allowed to come is unthinkable. So it won't happen. Fifa may be corrupt but they're not stupid.

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