Australia has become the first team to release a group statement criticising Qatar for its poor human rights record.
Addressing the issue in a video, 16 players, including ex-Arsenal and Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan, took aim at the host nation’s treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community.
“There are universal values that should define football. Values such as respect, dignity, trust and courage,” skipper Ryan said.
“When we represent our nation, we aspire to embody these values.”
Qatar has been criticised for its treatment of migrant workers, the criminalisation of same-sex relationships and its poor human rights record since it was awarded this winter’s finals back in 2010.
The organising committee of the tournament told Sky News that “no country is perfect” but that “protecting the health, safety, security, and dignity of every worker contributing to this World Cup” was its priority.
In the Socceroos clip, several players, including Jackson Irvine, Bailey Wright, and Jamie Maclaren, along with the president of the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) union, Alex Wilkinson, took turns to make a brief statement.
They acknowledged that conditions have improved for workers in the Gulf state, but noted the implementation of reforms “remain inconsistent and requires improvement”.
The kafala system – which regulated the lives of migrant labourers and allowed employers to take workers’ passports and stop them leaving the country – has been partially dismantled over the past few years.
‘A legacy that goes beyond the final whistle’
“We have learned that the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has resulted in the suffering and harm of countless of our fellow workers,” said midfielder Jackson Irvine.
“These migrant workers who have suffered are not just numbers,” added Mr Wilkinson.
“Like the migrants that have shaped our country and our football, they possess the same courage and determination to build a better life”
The team said it is working with several organisations to “establish a lasting legacy in Qatar” and called for the country to set up a migrant resource centre.
It also called for the decriminalisation of all same-sex relationships and “effective remedy” for those who have been denied their rights to help improve the situation in the country.
“These are the basic rights that should be afforded to all and will ensure continued progress in Qatar,” the team stressed.
“This is how we can ensure a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
‘Don’t do anything gay – is that the message?’
One of the most high-profile footballers to tell the world he is gay is Australian Josh Cavallo, who plays for Adelaide United.
Earlier this month, the former England striker Gary Lineker said he knows two gay Premier League players and he hopes they will come out during the World Cup to send a strong message Qatar.
Lineker was one of the key figures who led criticism of Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday, after he suggested LGBT football fans heading to the country should be “respectful of the host nation”.
Mr Cleverly urged fans to show “a little bit of flex and compromise” and to “respect the culture of your host nation”, before Downing Street distanced itself from his comments.
Lineker wrote: “Whatever you do, don’t do anything gay. Is that the message?”
Australia will play the defending champions France, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D.
What does Qatar say?
When approached by Sky News, a spokesperson for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said: ”We commend footballers using their platforms to raise awareness for important matters.
“We have committed every effort to ensuring that this World Cup has had a transformative impact on improving lives, especially for those involved in constructing the competition and non-competition venues we’re responsible for.
“Protecting the health, safety, security, and dignity of every worker contributing to this World Cup is our priority.
“This is achieved through our commitment to holding contractors accountable via our worker welfare standards, continuous work on enhancing health and safety practices, creating and developing worker representation forums in collaboration with international unions and experts, robust auditing that includes an independent third party monitor, working with contractors to ensure workers who paid recruitment fees are entitled to repayment, and ensuring that these policies lead to a change in work culture that lasts far beyond 2022.
“The Qatari government’s labour reforms are acknowledged by the ILO, ITUC, and numerous human rights organisations as the benchmark in the region. New laws and reforms often take time to bed in, and robust implementation of labour laws is a global challenge, including in Australia.
“No country is perfect, and every country – hosts of major events or not – has its challenges.
“This World Cup has contributed to a legacy of progress, better practice, and improving lives – and it’s a legacy that will live long after the final ball is kicked.”