Activist Peter Tatchell leads a protest outside Qatar’s embassy in London. Image: Peter Tatchell Foundation/YouTube
With the Qatar World Cup underway, ethical issues around the tournament have raised questions of whether to boycott the tournament.
It’s been mired in controversy since Fifa awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010. The Qatari government says 37 workers have died building stadiums for the World Cup, but the Guardian reports that in total 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country since 2010. Homosexuality is illegal and can be punished with three years in prison.
Meanwhile, the efforts of the England team to protest with an armband were scuppered by the threat of a yellow card, while Fifa has ordered Belgium to replace the word “love” from the inside of one of its shirts.
All this has left fans grappling with the question of how to protest against the competition, or at least its hosts, and what might be most effective. Here we break down the options, including negative action like boycotting, and positive action like supporting campaigns
Not watching the games is the most obvious option
The World Cup is fundamentally a TV event. Not watching may feel like a quixotic individual stand but as a fan you can only do things within your power.
Just as a boycott means little if you weren’t going to watch the games anyway, it only means something if not watching represents at least some hardship.
But in terms of effectiveness, it’s also worth figuring out whether a boycott would be genuinely meaningful beyond depriving business to pubs already struggling with the cost of living crisis.
So will not watching the World Cup make a difference?
If you’re looking to make change, even in a small way, then it’s worth being realistic. Ethical concerns on their own often don’t influence large bodies – but controversies and revenue hits can.
Fifa gets most of its money from the World Cup and TV revenues. A look at Fifa’s figures for 2015-18, which marks the most recent World Cup cycle, shows TV rights were $3.1bn, marketing rights were $1.6bn, licensing rights were $600m, and hospitality/accommodation rights and ticket sales were $712m. Overall, 95 per cent of FIFA’s revenue comes from these World Cup-related sources.
So a mass boycott could, in theory, reduce viewing figures and potentially make the TV rights a less attractive prospect for future broadcasters, meaning reduced revenues for Fifa. And that could influence their choices for future tournaments.
But the next tournament has already been awarded: 2026 will take place across North America. The host of the 2030 World Cup will be chosen in 2024.
And an increasing amount of Fifa’s audience comes from around the world, with coverage reaching an ever-growing proportion of the world’s population. Fifa said 3.3 billion people – over half of the world’s population aged over three – watched 2018’s tournament, an increase of 2.2 per cent on 2014’s tournament. So, while TV revenues are Fifa’s biggest money-spinner, it’s unclear that even a the biggest boycott campaign in a single market like the UK would go very far in influencing the decision makers. Of course, this doesn’t diminish it as a moral stand.
Advertising around the World Cup is Fifa’s second largest source of revenue, and campaigns to target advertisers are not without precedent. In the UK, Stop Funding Hate puts pressure on advertisers not to do business with certain news outlets. Kopparberg, Ikea, and Grolsch pulled adverts on TV channel GB News after a campaign from the group, which the GB News CEO admitted had “no doubt” had an impact.
However, there hasn’t been a mass campaign in the same vein for the World Cup and little talk of an advertising boycott around.
In fact, there’s little evidence that advertisers are changing tack at all. Bloomberg News asked 76 companies sponsoring the tournament itself or national teams taking part, and none said they would be changing their advertising over human rights concerns.
Protests have been taking place in London
If you can’t make a difference with negative action then you might with positive action.
This weekend saw protests take place in London to highlight human rights abuses by the Iranian and Qatari governments. Veteran LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell, who recently staged a protest in Qatar, led protesters outside the Qatari embassy.
“I understand that football fans feel very passionate, so, OK, watch your games, but please use social media to amplify human rights abuses in Qatar and to support those very brave Qataris striving for democracy and human rights,” Tatchell said at the protest.
If nothing else, protests like this will raise awareness of the reasons why people are so unhappy with the World Cup. In-person activism is powerful and much harder to ignore.
You can support groups fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and migrant workers
A 2021 report by the US State Department found there were no LGBTQ+ organisations or pride marches in Qatar, where same sex relationships are illegal, so supporting groups helping LGBTQ+ people inside Qatar is difficult.
One group is Proud Maroons, a supporters group for the Qatari team made up entirely from supporters outside the country – because Qataris cannot join.
“The whole LGBTQ+ community and its allies outside Qatar can join us in turning the most silenced supporters in the world into the loudest,” the group says.
Qatar has also rejected calls for a compensation fund for migrant workers, with Labour minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri saying: “This call for a duplicative Fifa-led compensation campaign is a publicity stunt.”
Two charities are leading the call for a $440m compensation fund: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. You can support and read more about Human Rights Watch’s campaign here, and Amnesty’s here.
UK LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall is running a campaign called Proud Stadium, aiming to fill a virtual stadium with 80,000 people to highlight LGBTQ+ issues in Qatar.
“Together, we can send a powerful message to global leaders, whether sponsors, broadcasters or politicians: LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, and we won’t stand for the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, or anywhere else,” Stonewall said on its website.
How do you feel about the World Cup being held in Qatar? Are you protesting or taking action? Let us know at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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