Although a petition calling on the team to boycott the tournament failed, the players did wear T-shirts saying ‘Football supports change’ before qualifying games and their kit will be a toned-down design by Hummel because the kit supplier did not “wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives”. Fifa, however, has banned the squad from training in shirts with the phrase ‘Human Rights For All’ on them, with the governing body saying it prohibits all political messages.
Captain Harry Kane is to wear a OneLove rainbow armband at the tournament as part of an anti-discrimination initiative and in support of the LGBTQ+ community, with the FA saying they were prepared to risk a Fifa fine. In September, the manager, Gareth Southgate, said: “There is not a lot more the players, in particular, can do other than talk about those issues and put them on the table because in the end, we are asking for change in a country we are respectful of, (that) has made progress, but we don’t have any control over.”
In the home of the defending champions, an increasing number of cities will not broadcast matches on big screens in public fan zones amid concerns over violations of migrant workers’ rights and the environmental impact of the tournament. They include the capital city, whose team, Paris Saint-Germain, is owned by Qatar Sports Investments. Meanwhile, French legend Eric Cantona has said he will not be watching the tournament, dismissing it as “not a real World Cup” and citing the deaths of “thousands of people” during the construction of the new stadiums. A much-reported claim that he would be watching an episode of Columbo during each game instead turned out, sadly, to have been a spoof.
Although protests and boycott calls have been thin on the ground in Portugal – perhaps because they are bidding for the 2030 finals – one of the squad’s key players, Bruno Fernandes, has spoken of his concerns about the tournament. The Manchester United midfielder said: “We’ve seen the surrounding [stories] about people who have died on the construction of the stadiums. We are not happy for that. We want football to be for everyone, and get everyone included and involved in the World Cup. It’s for everyone, [it] doesn’t matter who.”
Barcelona will not be offering public viewing venues to watch Spain’s games during the tournament after its mayor said her city didn’t support holding the World Cup in Qatar. Ada Colau rejected a request by an opposition party during a city hall council session to open a fan zone for Spain’s games, saying her city government would not “dedicate public resources nor public spaces for the viewing of a World Cup that is being held in a dictatorship”.
In February last year, the country’s House of Representatives adopted a motion calling on the government not to send a delegation to the event, but last week it was announced sport minister Conny Helder would be attending. If the country progresses further it is thought the King could travel to the event, despite a survey for the TV show Hart van Nederland showing that a large majority (63%) of the population believe he should stay at home. Opposition MP Jasper van Dijk called the government sending any kind of delegation to the Gulf state “a painful display”.
Fans in stadiums across Germany last week called for a boycott of Qatar, most strikingly at Borussia Dortmund where fans in the club’s famous yellow wall – the all-standing southern stand – unveiled a banner saying ‘BOYCOTT QATAR 2022’ alongside another saying ‘more dead than minutes of play’. Meanwhile, Philipp Lahm, the former Germany player who captained his country to the World Cup title in Brazil eight years ago, has said that he won’t be going to Qatar as part of the official delegation or as a fan. He said: “Human rights should play an important role in awarding tournaments.”
The city of Vevey, on the north shore of Lake Geneva, last week became the first in Switzerland to announce it will be boycotting the World Cup, banning any demonstration or broadcast in a public space that has any connection with the tournament. In Geneva itself organisers of a planned fan zone – which would have broadcast games on a big screen – told Blick newspaper that “90% of the hoped-for sponsors no longer wanted to associate their name with the event”. Speaking to another newspaper, 20 minuten, the sociologist Ueli Mäder said: “I know very few fans who don’t give a damn that Qatar are the hosts.