Ill-conceived Qatar friendly can only be damaging for Scotland

Date: 22nd May 2015

ON ethical, social and even footballing grounds, Scotland’s upcoming friendly with Qatar looks to be totally inappropriate and thoughtless, writes Ben Ramage.

There is an increasing ill-ease within Scotland at every level with the decision to play the Gulf state on June 5th, despite the well-documented mistreatment of its migrant workers as it continues to build the stadia which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), recently labelled the country a ‘slave state’.

She argued that for three years the conditions haven’t improved, stating that: ‘The discrimination, the racism, the denial of rights for 1.4million migrant workers adds up to apartheid and a model of employment that is simply slavery. There is a conspiracy of silence by governments and major sporting and cultural institutions that allow it to continue.’

Qatar was a British protectorate in the early 20th Century until gaining independence in 1971 and is now the world’s richest country per capita, thanks to its huge stocks of natural gas and oil reserves.

But despite being such a wealthy country, the workers toil six days per week generally 12 hours a day and receive only a meagre $300 at the end of the month.

Here at the SFSA, and seemingly throughout the country, we believe the staging of this game is totally unethical.

Simon Barrow, of the SFSA, stated recently that: ‘Since the Scottish Football Supporters Association launched just last month we’ve had almost 7,500 individual football fans signing up to join and in recent days we’ve been contacted by an increasing number of them, from all over the country, expressing concerns about Scotland hosting Qatar.

‘They have growing concerns about the long standing human rights issues in Qatar and in particular those linked to World Cup in 2022 and it is clear to us from the contact we are receiving is that this matter is not going away.’

He also went on to warn that: ‘There is a strong indication that there will be protests at the game too. The SFSA had a meeting with the SFA on Tuesday and made them aware of the concerns being conveyed to us about our opponents.’

It is too late to cancel the friendly, but we urge the SFA to use this friendly as an opportunity to raise awareness of these terrible conditions, not shy away from them.

Playfair Qatar, a campaign group against the ‘abuse of migrant workers building World Cup stadia and infrastructure in Qatar’, also insists that the SFA must use its power to speak out against the obvious issues within the Gulf state.

They themselves are planning huge boycotts of major sponsors, hoping that the proximity to FIFA’s May 29 presidential election will give them increased media spotlight and force FIFA sponsors to push for reform within the organization.

It appears to be working already, with FIFA World Cup sponsors Visa and
Coca-Cola recently coming out and expressing ‘grave concerns’ over migrant workers’ conditions in the Arab country.

What makes the friendly even more infuriating is that it doesn’t even make sense in footballing terms. Yes, it gives the Tartan Army a warm-up game for the crucial Republic of Ireland European qualifier, but because of Qatar’s lowly FIFA status even a win might have an awful effect on which pot Scotland are placed in for the 2018 World Cup draw in Russia a month later.

Strachan’s much-improved side were on course to seal a place in Pot Two. But because of FIFA’s complicated, and sometimes bizarre, ranking system playing the friendly will reduce our overall average points, likely seeing us slip into Pot Three.

Gordon Strachan cleverly sidestepped the issue after his squad announcement for the Qatar friendly, realising that he would be entering a political minefield he would best avoid. He is in charge of the Scottish football team’s performance on the pitch and nothing else, let’s leave it that way. But even he must be angry that the good work he is doing may be adversely affected.

On no level has this friendly been well judged. While the SFA cannot rectify the decision altogether, they must now use the occasion as an opportunity to denounce the indefensible conditions that migrant workers are still being subjected to in Qatar.

Social justice must always come before football, and the lives and well-being of hundreds of thousands will always be more important than the playing of one FIFA Football World Cup.


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