Human rights organisations see little in a boycott of the World Cup in Qatar, as list tractors Gert-Jan Segers (CU) and Sigrid Kaag (D66) proposed in the CCEit on 3 election program. “Workers are not helped,” says Jan Kooy of Human Rights Watch. “It is now better to go to Qatar and put pressure on the authorities for reform. There are still not, despite promises, and time is running out.”
Segers and Kaag responded to research conducted by The Guardian, which showed that more than 6500 migrant workers died in Qatar since the 2010 World Cup was awarded to the Gulf State. The message is in line with previous reports that workers are being exploited financially, have to work under dangerous conditions and are not allowed to go home.
According to Ruud Bosgraaf of Amnesty International, an international boycott of the World Cup will not improve working conditions. “Suppose a boycott were successful: then some of the migrant workers will be sent home and they will lose their wages. No matter how little it is, they and their families desperately need that income.”
Over the next year and a half, pressure can still be put on the Qatari government to improve working conditions. “We are not naive enough to think we can get that to European standards,” says Bosgraaf. “But if FIFA and the national football associations deliver pressure, things like compensation for the family of deceased workers are possible.”
According to Bosgraaf, a remark like that of lists Kaag and Segers is easy to talk for a politician in election time, “But national governments can certainly play a part in this pressure. For example, the Chamber could still ask the foreign minister to address Qatar.”
During the World Cup itself, the Netherlands can make a statement by not sending dignitaries to Qatar. “That would be a good signal if it clearly communicates why,” says Kooy of Human Rights Watch. “Segers and Kaag are free to arrange that.”
Kooy also sees a role for football players to put human rights on the map, without letting them fail the World Cup. “For example, they could visit a construction site and share a photo with the workers on social media. For countries like this, PR is very important, so speaking out publicly is very important.”
Until now Dutch politics was almost silent about the World Cup in Qatar, and even abroad there seems to be no enthusiasm for a boycott. Initially, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain had planned to boycott the tournament, although this was due to the accusation that Qatar would support terrorism in the region. When diplomatic ties were strengthened again at the beginning of this year, this boycott was also off the table.
There has been some opposition to the human rights situation in the country only in Scandinavia in recent years. In Denmark, for example, a group of prominent supporters from all major football clubs with a petition called on the Football Association to boycott the World Cup. In response, Bundescoach Kasper Hjulmand said that he would accept this if the parliament wanted to. However, the government played the ball back to the union: that is where, according to the Minister of Culture, the initiative for a boycott should lie.
In Finland, attacker Riku Riski stayed home last year when the Finnish team travelled to Qatar for a friendly match against Sweden. He told the press that he did so in protest against the working conditions of guest workers. “I stayed away for ethical reasons. I want to stick to my values. That was important to me,” said HJK Helsinki player. After this individual action, no broader resistance arose.
In Norway too, there has been protests in recent years. In 2018, the chairman of the Norwegian trade union centre said: “If we hold a minutes silence for every worker who died in 2022, the first 44 World Cup matches will take place in silence.” However, a boycott was not seriously considered in Norway either.