World Cup 2022: Fifa tells all competing nations to ‘focus on football’ in Qatar


Norway wear shirts protesting against the Qatar World Cup
Norway players, including Erling Haaland (far left), wore shirts last year saying ‘human rights on and off the pitch’ in protest of the Qatar World Cup. Norway have not qualified for the tournament.

Fifa has written to all 32 teams competing at the World Cup telling them to “now focus on the football” following a controversial build-up.

Host Qatar has been criticised for its stance on same-sex relationships, its human rights record and its treatment of migrant workers.

The tournament starts on 20 November.

The letter urges that football should not be “dragged” into ideological or political “battles” and it should not be “handing out moral lessons”.

Peaceful protests have been planned by some players.

England’s Harry Kane and nine other captains of European teams will be wearing ‘One Love’ armbands.

Denmark will wear “toned-down” shirts to protest against Qatar, with kit provider Hummel saying it “does not wish to be visible” in a tournament it claims “has cost thousands of lives”.

Australia’s squad have released a video urging Qatar to abolish its laws on same-sex relationships.

Paris, and other French cities, are refusing to screen matches in public areas, despite France being the defending champions.

The letter, signed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatma Samoura and seen by the BBC, reads: “We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world.

“But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.

It adds: “At Fifa, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world. No one people or culture or nation is “better” than any other. This principle is the very foundation stone of mutual respect and non-discrimination.

“And this is also one of the core values of football. So, please let’s all remember that and let football take centre stage.

“We have the unique occasion and opportunity to welcome and embrace everyone, regardless of origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.”

MPs call on Southgate and Kane to act over Iran

The England team has been asked to consider making a “display or gesture of solidarity with Iranian women fighting for their civil liberties” when the two countries meet in their opening match at the World Cup on 21 November.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, has written to coach Gareth Southgate and captain Harry Kane telling them such a move would be “hugely meaningful in raising awareness about the Iranian government’s condemnable actions”.

In a letter also signed by Lib Dems sport spokesman Jamie Stone and seen by the BBC, it states that such an action would also “likely be seen by those who are putting their lives on the line in protest, which could be invaluable”.

Protests and unrest in Iran have been sparked by the death on 16 September of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who fell into a coma after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.

There were reports that officers beat her head with a baton. The police said she suffered a heart attack.

Iranian football and sports personalities and human rights group Open Stadiums have previously requested that Fifa ban the Iranian national team.

The BBC has contacted the Football Association for comment.

We try to help as much as we can – Henderson

Speaking this week, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it was “not fair” to expect players to make political statements or protests at the tournament.

England midfielder Jordan Henderson said on BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast: “A lot gets put on players on ‘should the World Cup be played there?’ and everything that goes with that, but the players don’t decide where the World Cup is played.

“Fifa decides that and that is a question for them to answer. For us as players we just play football and try to have a voice in certain ways to help as much as we can.”

He added: “We do little things like that to try and show people we are all one, we are all inclusive and that is why that campaign [Kane’s armband] was brought to light.

“If you do the right things, that is most important. Unless everyone is just not going to turn up, then no matter what people say it is never going to be enough.”

England’s Beth Mead said on Thursday it is “disappointing” the tournament is being held in Qatar. Mead, who is openly gay, does not think the Gulf state is the “right place” for the tournament to be staged.

A controversial build-up

Other off-the-field issues include Russia being banned by Fifa after the country’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition, the Ukrainian FA has called for Iran to be banned from the World Cup for “systematic human rights violations”. It believes a crackdown on protests in the country “may violate the principles and norms” of Fifa.

The World Cup has been moved to the northern hemisphere winter for the first time in its 92-year history. Qatar initially proposed to host the finals during the summer in air-conditioned enclosed stadiums, but the plan was rejected.

Qatar’s World Cup organisers state “everyone is welcome” to visit the country to watch the football, and that no-one will be discriminated against.

Short presentational grey line

More reading on Qatar 2022 World Cup

Short presentational grey line

Seven new stadiums have been built for the event, as well as an airport, roads and about 100 hotels. Qatar’s government says 30,000 foreign labourers have been hired just to build the stadiums, with most coming from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines.

Human rights groups have complained about the treatment of foreign labourers in Qatar, and the number who have died there.

In February 2021, the Guardian said 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won its World Cup bid in 2010.

The number is based on figures provided by the countries’ embassies in Qatar.

However, the Qatar government said the total was misleading, because not all the deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects.

The government said its accident records showed that between 2014 and 2020, there were 37 deaths among labourers at World Cup stadium construction sites, only three of which were “work-related”.

BBC Arabic has gathered evidence which suggests Qatar’s government has under-reported deaths among foreign labourers.

England’s Football Association has backed calls for compensation to be awarded for “any injury or death related to any construction project” for the World Cup.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch, called the Fifa letter “nothing short of appalling”, while Amnesty International’s Felix Jakens told BBC Radio 5 Live: “There’s never been a right time to talk about human rights issues in Qatar as far as they [Fifa] are concerned.

“Now is the time to apply pressure on these issues. Once the World Cup rolls out of town, are we still going to be having conversations about Qatar? I don’t think we are.”

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