FIFA and Qatar 'rattled' as European football World Cup boycott gathers pace

FIFA and Qatar 'rattled' as European football World Cup boycott gathers pace

Fans display a banner during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

The giant banners are now a familiar sight at German Bundesliga matches. 

Unfurled by fans, and seen by millions watching on TV, "Boycott Qatar 2022" has become a rallying cry for clubs, supporters and players alike who oppose this month's World Cup and want to highlight human rights and environmental concerns in the host nation. 

"The closer the World Cup gets, the more intense the message is getting," explained Stefan Schirmer from the Boycott Qatar campaign. 

"We have the impression that since the last two or three months, the momentum is gaining, it's going up," Schirmer, who plays football for an amateur club in Mainz, told Euronews. 

The campaign also seeks to further publicise concerns over the rights of women, the LGBT community and migrant workers, democracy and the environmental impact of hosting a tournament in air-conditioned stadiums.

Philipp Lahm, the former German player who captained his country to the World Cup title in Brazil eight years ago, said recently that he won't be going to Qatar as part of the official delegation or as a fan.

“Human rights should play an important role in awarding tournaments. If a country that does poorly in that area gets the award (of hosting), then you have to think about what criteria the decision was based on,” Lahm told the German Press Agency dpa. 

This week, however, Faeser visited Qatar and said she had received a "safety guarantee" for German LGBT visitors attending the tournament. Organisers have repeatedly said all visitors will be welcomed and treated with respect, regardless of sexuality or gender. Unmarried couples will not be banned from sharing accommodation.  

Her comments came just a day after Qatar's foreign minister was quoted by German media saying the German population "is misinformed by government politicians" on one hand, while the government itself "has no problem with us when it comes to energy partnerships or investments". 

The State of Qatar is one of the world’s biggest producers of natural gas – selling billions of euros worth to European countries. In 2021 Qatar provided 24% of Europe’s total LNG imports.

"It is ironic when this tone is struck in countries in Europe that call themselves liberal democracies. It sounds very arrogant, frankly, and very racist," he told the newspaper.

"Back then I was captain of the national team, and so it's also a question of leadership. You can't just hide away, because journalist questions are not only about your last game. So I tried to find out more and educate myself about the situation in Qatar," Sparv told Euronews. 

Sparv, who now coaches juniors at Sparta Prague, said he thinks FIFA is "rattled" by the groundswell of animosity against the organisation, and the Qatar World Cup. 

"Reading that letter, it sounded really arrogant in the first place. You get a sense they are a little bit rattled, and they don't like what's going on: people taking a stand and people speaking up." 

"I think there is also a place and a time for boycotting and it's a last stage, so there are other alternatives to a boycott. I'm interested to see how players, federations, coaches and teams use this opportunity while they are in Qatar, and address these issues," said Finland's Tim Sparv. 

"It will definitely be a little disappointing if they don't say anything. That would be a wasted opportunity, and something they would regret later on." 

The plight of construction and domestic workers living in desperate conditions has been well-documented over the years.

In response, the Qatari government overhauled the country's labour laws and introduced a minimum wage.

But human rights organisations say migrant worker abuses remain rife in Qatar and that labour reforms are unfinished. 

The Boycott Qatar 2022 campaign was never under any illusions they could somehow stop the tournament, which is a juggernaut of sport, marketing and geopolitics -- "that is a fantasy" said Stefan Schirmer. 

"I won't watch any World Cup games, and in fact, at our club in Mainz we have organised friendly games against other teams during the quarter-final, semi-final and final," Schirmer said. 

The campaign hopes individual football fans will opt to tune out of the games on TV, and that pubs which would normally show the matches decide not to this year, for ethical reasons. 

"We want pubs and clubs to be creative, and offer alternative activities for fans." 

"Boycott Qatar is just a collection of very small actions, but together we can have one very big voice, and it can have a positive effect."

At the time of publication, Qatar has not responded to Euronews' request for a comment regarding the boycott campaign.