The 2022 men’s World Cup, the first to be played in the Arab world, kicks off on Nov. 20. The tournament, which is traditionally played in June and July, has been moved up to avoid playing in the severe Middle Eastern heat.
Canada will play in the prestigious tournament for the first time in 36 years after qualifying earlier this year. However, the Canadians will be playing in a tournament that has been clouded with controversy ever since 2010, when Qatar was announced as host.
Allegations of mistreatment of migrant workers building World Cup infrastructure have been made for years, and recently, Qatar’s record on LGBTQ2 rights has been in question.
Ottawa, which did a diplomatic boycott for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s poor record on human rights, told Global News that no plan has been made yet for a federal dignitary to attend the World Cup.
“The Government of Canada is proud of the Canadian men’s national soccer team qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” a spokesperson with Heritage Canada told Global News on Oct. 21.
“Their qualification is a historic event in itself and all Canadians look forward to cheering them on in November. So far, no plan has been made for a dignitary to attend the event.”
Federal diplomatic absence ‘doesn’t go far enough’
The spokesperson did not elaborate as to why plans haven’t been made yet for a dignitary to attend the World Cup, and redirected Global News on Thursday to another department when asked.
Multiple requests asking whether the decision so far not to send a dignitary is linked to Qatar’s human rights record were not returned by Global Affairs Canada, Heritage Canada and the foreign affairs and heritage minister’s offices by publication time.
Several states are still considering whether to send government officials to the World Cup.
On Oct. 19, the Netherlands OK’d a government delegation despite a parliamentary vote urging it not to do so over concerns regarding Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers.
When Ottawa announced it wouldn’t be sending diplomats to the Beijing Winter Olympics, several Olympians told Global News at the time the move was a sign of “progress,” given previous boycotts at the 1984 and 1980 Olympics involved nations withholding athletes from participating.
“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Dec. 8, 2021, when announcing the Beijing diplomatic boycott.
Trudeau announces Canada to join diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics
While the Olympics involves hundreds of nations, the 2022 World Cup only involves 32 countries that have to qualify for it through continental competitions.
Though it involves fewer nations, the FIFA World Cup is arguably the “biggest” sporting event in the world, said Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has been clouded with controversy since it was named host nation 12 years ago. At the time, the country had a population of 350,000, which has since boomed to 2.6 million due to migrants working to build infrastructure, like stadiums, needed for the tournament.
Among some of the allegations of mistreatment of migrant workers, Page said thousands have died on the job, have experienced wage theft and in some cases had their passports withheld by their employers.
Migrant worker rights put in the spotlight ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup
HRW and other human rights groups like Amnesty International are calling on participating nations to support calls for soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, to create a US$440-million remedy fund to compensate workers and improve worker protections.
Page wants the Canadian government and Canada Soccer, the sport’s governing body in the nation, to support these calls, saying a potential diplomatic absence similar to the Beijing Olympics “doesn’t go far enough.”
“What we want is not for people to just take symbolic actions, we want people to support real comprehensive policies … that actually gives the people who have suffered the most … to actually be paid what they’re owed for families who have lost loved ones as migrant workers, to be compensated for people’s deaths,” he told Global News on Thursday.
“I don’t have an individual position from a state of sending or not sending (diplomats); that is something important that states should consider, but in this case, it really misses the mark in which we want to push something in which migrant workers can have a material benefit, because that’s the essential thing.”
If government diplomats do attend the World Cup, they should speak out on the reported abuses, Page added.
“We want them to take a positive stand on human rights across the spectrum,” he said.
“If they don’t do that — that will be a disappointment.”
The Prime Minister’s Office and Canada Soccer did not return comment requests by publication time. On Friday night, Canada Soccer released a statement saying it “supports the ongoing pursuit of further progress regarding workers’ rights and inclusivity as Qatar prepares to host the world.”
Government diplomats must ‘speak out on these abuses’ if attending 2022 FIFA World Cup: Human Rights Watch
The United States Soccer Federation and six European federations are backing calls for a compensation fund. Alasdair Bell, FIFA deputy secretary general, has said the organization is open to talks on remedy and reparations.
LGBTQ rights also in focus
Qatar’s ruling emir has called the criticism an “unprecedented campaign” targeting the first Arab nation to host the tournament. Qatar has repeatedly pushed back, insisting it has improved protections for migrant workers and claiming the criticism is outdated.
Furthermore, Qatar’s stance on LGTBQ2 rights has been under fire as of late; homosexual acts are illegal in the conservative Muslim country, and some soccer stars have raised concerns over the rights of fans travelling for the event.
The nation has vowed LGTBQ2 fans won’t face arrest, but Qatari security forces arbitrarily arrested and abused LGBTQ2 Qataris as recently as last month, HRW said on Oct. 24.
A Qatari official called HRW’s allegations “categorically and unequivocally false,” in a statement.
World Cup organizers say everyone is welcome, no matter their sexual orientation or background, but that hasn’t stopped participating nations from speaking out.
Australia’s team put out a three-minute video on social media on Wednesday demanding genuine reform as a legacy of the Gulf country’s staging of the World Cup; Danish players will wear jerseys that were designed as a protest against Qatar’s human rights record, and its players will travel to the World Cup without their families as another form of protest.
Several major French cities, including Lille, Strasbourg and Bordeaux, will not organize fan zones or put up giant outdoor screens to show games; eight of the 13 European teams competing said in September they want their captains to wear an armband with a heart-shaped, multi-coloured design during games to support the “One Love” campaign against discrimination.
FIFA rules forbid teams from bringing their own armband designs to the World Cup, and insist they must use equipment provided by the governing body.
Canada makes return to the World Cup in less than a month!
A government official, speaking on background, told Global News Thursday it’s up to the players and Canada Soccer to decide if they will take any similar measures.
As fans, Canadians have the ability to bring about change, Page said.
“We can push Canada, both its government as well as the soccer federation, to reflect our values as we see them,” he said.
“In this case, that’s supporting LGBT people’s rights, fundamental rights in Qatar and speaking out on it, and it’s pushing for this remedy fund so … that we can try to address some of these abuses that make us so uncomfortable as fans.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters