FIFA letter receives backlash from World Cup nations: ‘The pursuit of such a strategy will be self-defeating’

A letter sent by FIFA to all World Cup nations asking them to “focus on football” in Qatar rather than “every ideological and political battle that exists” has been criticized by several recipients.

The run-up to the tournament has been overshadowed by allegations of serious human rights abuses, including Qatar’s criminalization of homosexuality, the widespread death of migrant workers, and the limited rights of women in the country.

Several nations have said The Athletics that FIFA’s warning has not changed their response to any of these issues.

This includes members of the UEFA Working Group – a collection of 12 teams pushing FIFA and Qatar for more comprehensive support for migrant workers’ rights, including England, the US, France, the Netherlands, and Germany – as well as Australia, which has been are particularly vocal about their support for human rights.

Last week, the Australian team released a video through their players’ foundation (PFA), which demanded fair compensation for migrant workers, a migrant worker center and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

In response to questions from The AthleticsBelgium and Denmark also revealed that they support Australia’s stance on all three issues, while 10 other countries have publicly called for a migrant worker center and compensation fund.

Several federations reacted with confusion to receiving the letter, with one questioning why it was sent as a letter rather than by email. Others found it difficult to even confirm that they had received the letter, with the letter addressed only to the chief executive officer or president of each federation, many of whom were out of the country.

Asked if FIFA’s letter had changed any of the Australian team’s views on the tournament, PFA co-chief executive Beau Busch said The Athletics: “No, all it does is reinforce the scale of the challenge that those who want football to be a force for good face and highlights the courage of those who continue to raise their voice.

“It reinforces the reality that leadership on these critical issues will continue to come from groups such as players, coaches, supporters and human rights organisations. FIFA does not have exclusivity over what the game can and should stand for; all of us associated with football are free to make a choice.

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“FIFA acknowledged in their letter that football does not operate in a vacuum, however they seem to be calling for that. History has shown us that pursuing such a strategy will be self-defeating and will only further erode football’s social license to operate.”

The Athletics have contacted FIFA for comment.

Qatar’s labor minister this week rejected calls for a migrant worker compensation fund, calling the idea a “publicity stunt”, in comments described as “outrageous” by human rights groups.

The compensation fund was one of the central demands of the UEFA Working Group, which responded with frustration to FIFA’s letter, led by the Netherlands.

“After the World Cup, the KNVB wants to be proud of two things: the performance of the Dutch national team on the field and the permanent improvements in the situation of migrant workers in Qatar,” said Gijs de Jong, secretary general of the KNVB.

“We will also remain committed to this last topic. We have been working on this for a long time and will continue to do so after the World Cup.”

Several other working group federations confirmed The Athletics that their position would not change. The associations are expected to make a joint statement on Saturday afternoon.

The working group had contacted FIFA in mid-October asking for concrete assurances of progress in the development of the workers’ compensation fund and centre. That deadline, set for Monday, passed without a reply.

On Friday, FIFA finally responded, highlighting the work already done in Qatar. They referred to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), published this week, which praised some developments made in Qatar – such as the abolition of the kafala system – while also calling for significant improvements.

However, De Jong, speaking on behalf of the working group, said: “Unfortunately, FIFA has not yet made any concrete commitments regarding the compensation fund and the migrant workers’ centre, as specifically requested.

“We want a convincing answer, which FIFA has promised us several times. That is why we have put this topic on the agenda of the upcoming FIFA summit (November 20), so that it can now be discussed with all 211 unions.”

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The working group expressed their disappointment to FIFA as a group on Friday afternoon.

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What did the letter say?

Sent on Thursday at around 7pm, and signed by president Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatma Samoura, the full text reads:

“The FIFA World Cup Qatar is now upon us and excitement for the world’s premier football festival is building globally as we count down the days to kick-off in Doha on Sunday 20 November 2022 .

“As one of the 32 participating teams, you carry the hopes and dreams of your home country and all its people on your shoulders.

“FIFA would like to assure you that everything in Qatar has been prepared to ensure that all participating nations will have the very best chance to ultimately succeed on the football stage. The eight world-class stadiums, where 64 FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 matches will be played, will provide the perfect stage for the world’s biggest sporting event.

“So let’s focus now on the football!

“We know that football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature around the world. But please don’t let football be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.

“At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world. One of the world’s great strengths is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means respecting that diversity. No people or culture or nation is “better” than any other. This principle is the cornerstone of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And this is also one of the core values ​​of football. So let’s all remember that and let football take center stage.

“Now, at the FIFA World Cup, we have the unique occasion and opportunity to welcome and embrace everyone, regardless of their origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality. Let’s seize that opportunity and unite the world through the universal language of football.”

Why did the Australian team choose to speak out?

Australia’s statement was significant — it was not only the first public statement by a group of players, but also the first call by a country for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Kate Gill, co-chief executive of the PFA, explained the thought process behind the video to The Athletics.

“The video was another step in a journey that the players have been on for the past three years,” he said. “They have engaged with Human Rights groups such as Amnesty, the ILO, FIFPRO, FIFA, the Supreme Committee and most importantly, the migrant workers themselves.

“What was clear through this process was that the World Cup spotlight helped facilitate important reforms but equally it is clear that further progress needs to be made. The players hope the video can help play a part, however small, in ensuring a lasting legacy in Qatar that goes beyond what happens on the pitch.”

Although the team is not planning any further protests at the World Cup, they have stated a commitment to engage with these issues after the tournament.

“The players wanted to be very clear in the video and to ensure as much clarity as possible on their position,” added Busch. “The focus has also been on ensuring that they do not contribute to any harm to human rights while at the tournament and that a remedy is available to anyone who is negatively affected by their activities during the tournament.

“There are currently no plans for any additional protests at the tournament, with the players determined to make the football community proud of them on the pitch as well as off it. Our engagement on these issues will continue long after the final whistle of this men’s World Cup.”

The World Cup starts on November 20, when Qatar plays Ecuador.

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(Photo: Getty Images)



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