HUMAN RIGHTS? F*ck that, play on

ANALYSIS: The Socceroos have qualified for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar but how much should we really be celebrating, wonders Gary Johnston.

From the moment Socceroos substitute goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne blocked a rubbish penalty kick from hapless Peruvian Alex Valera, Australia prepared itself for the World Cup 2022 party.

‘You’ve got to be in it to win it’, goes the old cliché and although the Socceroos – a clunky tag for aficionados of the round ball game who insist it must be called ‘football’ – almost certainly won’t, that’s not really the point.

When it comes to the FIFA World Cup, the name of the game, (when that name isn’t corruption), is being there. Being amongst the biggest nations in the world; biggest footballing nations that is, don’t expect to see a Russian team, they’ve been banned as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, in a rare, some would say first and only sighting of FIFA’s laughably titled integrity policy.

The tournament, a festival of all that is great in football, will be held in that traditional bastion of the world game, Qatar, with the final taking place in the Lusail Stadium, a footballing venue every bit as famous and revered for wonderful memories as Estadio Do Maracaná, Wembley and The Santiago Bernabéu.

Well, it will be.  When it’s finished.

The Lusail Iconic Stadium (some say ‘Ironic’ fits better) is a new build, erected at an estimated cost of US$10 billion dollars, and stands as testament to Qatar’s commitment and (allegedly) the preponderance of brown paper bags it distributed back in 2010 when, in what it universally acknowledged as the most tarnished and shameful ‘bidding process’ in world sporting history, it was awarded the tournament.

Given the nod, you might remember, by then FIFA chief, Sepp Blatter – an official so crooked and twisted he had to screw his pants on every morning.

The enormous scale of Blatter’s level of bribery and corruption eventually became too much for even the brazen crooks of FIFA to bear and he was replaced by a man called Gino Infantino, who many believe shares Blatter’s interest in grubby cash deposits but is simply much more subtle about it.

One of Infantino’s early obligations was to state categorically that, despite wide-scale outrage at the non-process, the 2022 Qatar World Cup will go ahead as planned, despite the fact it will occur in the European midwinter and as such, will wreck havoc on the biggest domestic leagues in the game.

In addition to the Lusail, a total of eight stadiums are either being built or refurbished in Qatar, a small country in the Arabian Peninsula previously known for its massive resources of natural gas and minuscule recognition of basic human rights.

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As well as unbalanced gender equality laws, Qatar retains the death penalty, continues to utilise public flogging for alcohol consumption and adultery (according to the criminal code the punishment for ‘fornication’ is 100 lashes), and criminalises same-sex relationships.

Stoning in public remains on the statute books, but in accordance with Qatar’s clout campaign to be considered a modern and sophisticated country, it is now longer carried out.

I mean, what do you think this is? The Middle Ages?

Anyone who wishes to build, of course, needs labour.  This necessary and fundamental element has been fulfilled by migrant workers from, in the main, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, 1.7million at the last count, over 90% of the country’s available workforce.

Subsequently, if Qatar’s bid to win the tournament was shonky – spoiler alert – it was – its treatment of workers brings the concept of exploitation to new and frankly shameful levels.

Expensive recruitment fees (some workers paid up to $4,000 just to be given a job), appalling living conditions, unpaid wages, and dangerous working practices – at least 7,000 construction workers have died in site accidents. 

At least. 

That’s the official figure. According to independent analysis, the real figure is much higher.

The speed of the build, the lack of even basic health and safety regulations, the non-existence of unions and the apparent local point of view that migrant workers are expendable and easily replaced, has meant that, in addition to the families of the deceased workers being left in penury, many labourers and heavy plant operators have suffered life-threatening injuries, preventing their ability to work and provide, often permanently.

No redress, no compensation, no hush money. Nothing.

Forced labour, some would say slave labour, masquerading as paid work.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical of the Qataris here, because every bit as complicit are the ruthless conglomerates, developers and construction companies who’ve massively profited from the mega-spend – a cohort involving big name companies in China, the US, UK, and yes, Australia, names available on request.

Of course, sport, in particular football, has long been seen as an opportunity for oil and gas rich potentates to acquire credibility and influence. 

Clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Newcastle have all ignored the lack of human rights embodied by their new owners in the hope – actually, pretty much a guarantee – of on field success.

And now, in a deal brokered by Australian Greg Norman, perfectly in sync with his nickname of Great White Shark, the game of golf has been bought and sold by the rulers of Saudi Arabia, a country whose appalling human rights records trumps even that of Qatar.

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That’d be Saudi Arabia, universally recognised as being responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, solid evidence resting in the fact that not only was Khashoggi a long-time critic of the Saudi Arabian Government, he was actually tortured, murdered and then dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

All sport, to some extent, is about success. About winning.

But it’s also about participation, about pride, loyalty and decency. There has to come a point when our collective regard for human beings, their rights, opportunity, safety and security takes precedence. If not, we’re all as complicit and culpable as the men in suits, big business, power brokers, asset strippers and developers.

Us, the fans. The punters. You wouldn’t know it, but we do actually have the power.

Think about that when you’re watching the Socceroos play in the tournament in the early hours of mid-December. Or not, as the case may be.

Eric Cantona, the great, legendary player of yore, well-known for his silky skills and ability to karate kick a loud-mouthed Crystal Palace fan, has certainty made his views known.

In a recent social media post, Cantona, very much an outlier amongst sportsmen, in that he has a conscience, said this:

“To be honest, I don’t really care about the World Cup.  It’s only about money and the way they treated the people who built the stadiums, it’s horrible. And thousands of people died. And yet we will celebrate this World Cup.

“Personally, I will not watch it. I understand football is a business. But I thought it was the only place where everybody could have a chance.

I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m with Eric.

About Gary Johnston 79 Articles
Gary Johnston is an author, academic and former parole officer with decades of experience in the criminal justice system. He is True Crime News Weekly's Deputy Editor and Melbourne correspondent. His book 'No Previous Conviction' was published in May 2017 and is available on Amazon.

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