Australia’s men’s soccer team has released a powerful video attacking Qatar’s human rights abuses toward LGBTQ people and migrant workers ahead of the World Cup next month in the conservative Middle Eastern country.
The Socceroos — the first team to issue a unified statement against Qatari abuses ahead of the tournament — released its video Thursday morning criticizing problems surrounding the event and demanding change. All 16 players participated in the viral video.
They attacked policies linked to the “suffering” of migrant workers and the inability in Qatar of LGBTQ people “to love the person that they choose” — and called for specific changes, including the decriminalization of same-sex relationships and remedies for migrant workers who have been denied their rights.
“This is how we can ensure a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup — one that football can truly be proud of,” several players said.
Same-sex relationships are a crime in Qatar. Police have “arbitrarily” arrested LGBTQ people and mistreated them in police custody as recently as last month, according to a Human Rights Watch report published earlier this week.
Thousands of migrant workers have died in the last 10 years in Qatar, many of them in construction accidents on jobs related to the World Cup, according to a study last year.
“These migrant workers who have suffered are not just numbers. Like the migrants that have shaped our country and our football, they possess the same courage and determination to build a better life,” the team said in the video.
The video was released alongside an open letter from the Professional Footballers Australia players union and a statement from the governing body Football Australia addressing the human rights concerns in Qatar.
Other teams are expected to issue statements and participate in various protests, The Guardian reported.
In the U.K., however, Conservative Foreign Secretary James Cleverly triggered a massive blowback on Wednesday after telling soccer fans to “be respectful” of Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ culture if they attend the World Cup.
Cleverly said Qatari officials are aware they will have to make some compromises and that members of the LGBTQ community should recognize that the country is “trying.”
A spokesperson for new U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak angrily responded that no fan should be expected to “compromise who they are.”
Female fans are also worried about problems in Qatar. Women who report sexual violence, for example, can be flogged for engaging in illegal sex, according to reports.
Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Athletic: “At any major sporting event, the risk of sexual violence increases greatly.”
“In Qatar, women who face sexual violence — whether by their partners, colleagues, friends, or strangers — can find themselves prosecuted for extra-marital sex,” she added.
In another alarming situation, five Australian women this month sued the government of Qatar over forced vaginal exams and other invasive medical procedures at gunpoint at the Doha airport two years ago.
The plaintiffs and several other women on a Qatar Airways flight headed to Sydney — including citizens of Australia, New Zealand and Britain — were pulled off the aircraft and subjected to invasive gynecological exams in October 2020 after an abandoned newborn (who survived) was discovered in an airport bathroom.
Abandoned newborns are a problem in the country, which imprisons migrant women who become pregnant out of wedlock.
Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has angrily lashed out that Qatar is being judged far too harshly on how it treats women, migrant workers and the LGBTQ community. The nation “has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced,” he complained Tuesday.
The choice of Qatar to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world has been controversial since it was announced in 2010. The choice has been linked to bribes of officials at FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
The choice was made despite egregious human rights violations in the nation, and the fact that Qatar had a weak soccer legacy, no stadiums that could host international-level matches, and weather so hot during the typical time of the tournament that soccer league schedules around the world had to be upended to accommodate Qatar’s weather.