Qatar World Cup protests are too late... but they're far from pointless
Norway and Germany's protests against Qatar's treatment of migrant workers has come too late to stop the 2022 World Cup, but because of them, the issue is a bigger talking point than it has ever been
"I think we're 10 years too late to boycott the World Cup. It wasn't allocated this year, but a few years ago. One should have thought about boycotting back then..."
Joshua Kimmich is right, of course. Now, it is too late. If football really was serious about boycotting - or even stopping - the Qatar World Cup in response to the country's treatment of migrant workers, the time for meaningful action passed long ago.
In little over 18 months, football's international superpowers will board their planes bound for Doha. The lavish, purpose-built stadiums will welcome fans through their turnstiles. Fifa dignitaries will find only positive words to say about the hosts for this, the latest edition of their sport's showpiece event. The show will go ahead, irrespective of how many lives have been lost along the way.
After the recent T-shirt protests of Norway, Kimmich's Germany and others, it's this inevitability that, for some, has formed the basis of a counter-argument. When the World Cup will go ahead anyway, they ask, when some of those protesting will end up playing in it, why bother to protest at all?
Isn't it all a little futile? Just another example of football's obsession with empty gestures that ultimately lead to no change?
"We felt that we cannot arrange the greatest thing in football, the World Cup, on the grounds of dead people..."
How @tromsoil, a small club from Norway's Arctic north, led calls for the country's boycott of the Qatar World Cup | @SmnLlyd5https://t.co/hXUoJ2b2mS
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) March 25, 2021
Simply put, no. No it isn't pointless. And to ask such questions is to miss the point entirely.
This latest wave of protest began in Norway's Arctic north last month. Following an article from the Guardian, which highlighted how *at least* 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup, a statement from Tromsø called for a Norwegian boycott.
Within hours, it had sparked a national debate, gaining the backing of several of the country's leading clubs.
Speaking to JOE last week, Tromsø CEO Øyvind Alapnes admitted the chance of it causing major disruption to Qatar's World Cup was unlikely. The hope, he said, was that a lesson would be learned; that in the future, the extent of a country's archaic approach to human rights would be evident to all before the bidding for hosting rights commenced - not years later.
"I don't think we actually can stop the World Cup in Qatar," Alapnes said. "I don’t think we can actually change how they treat the workers down there, but I think it's time to say 'stop' to sportswashing.
"If we don’t do this right now, we will be in 2040 with the same situation: another bad country gets the World Cup, we try to go into dialogue [about the problems there] but nothing happens and the show must go on. And we repeat and we repeat."
Qatar has made some changes, of course. Amnesty International acknowledge this in the open the letter they sent to Fifa president Gianni Infantino last week. In doing so, they have become the first country in the region to make such changes to workers' rights, which can only be viewed as a positive.
But does this go far enough? Amnesty don't think so. Nor do many of those who have read the alarming figures posted by the Guardian (which, by the way, only factor in worker deaths from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - the death toll, the article adds, is 'significantly higher').
And there lies the other key point here - the one which shows that, even if Norway and Germany and the rest take their places in Qatar next winter, these protests have been far from "pointless". Because of Norway's national side, more football fans around the world are now aware of the real issue with the 2022 World Cup.
It's not the allegations of bribery in the bidding process. It's not the disruption a winter-time tournament will pose for the already cramped schedule of the football season. It's that thousands of people had to die in order to make sure its host country was ready; that countless more have suffered at the hands of exploitative employers.
Put simply, if people have to die for your event to come to pass, it should not be a viable option.
This has never been a bigger talking point than it is today. The hope is that it applies even more pressure on Qatari authorities to continue to implement change that improves the lives of the two-million-strong migrant work force that remain in the country. Should it not, the protests will at least have opened eyes.
When the tournament kicks off next year - as we all know it will - millions of those watching won't be quite as wowed by the images beamed onto our TV screens of glitzy, futuristic skyscrapers and palatial stadiums. Instead, we'll think of the thousands of people that went to Qatar to help it build a World Cup but never came home.