Joshua Kimmich said at the weekend that protests from fellow footballers, including his own German national team, are “10 years too late”. It is difficult not to agree.
This most recent set of World Cup qualifiers have seen pre-kick-off action taken by Norway and the Brazil 2014 winners, as a reaction to a recent report from The Guardian that claimed up to 6,500 workers have been killed constructing stadiums and infrastructure since the Gulf state won the rights to host the 2022 edition a decade ago.
Probed on the matter ahead of his country’s 1-0 away win over Romania, Kimmich was bang on the money when he said: “I think we’re 10 years too late to boycott the World Cup.
“It wasn’t allocated this year, but a couple of years ago. One should have thought about boycotting back then.”
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Moved to the middle of the European and American winter to avoid red-hot temperatures – another sticking point that will severely hamper club seasons – Qatar 2022 will get under way in around 20 months’ time.
But there is no point in acting as though The Guardian have broken a bombshell scoop that has those within the game and who support it dumbfounded in disbelief.
They merely provided the figures, while the mistreatment of migrant workers said to be living in subhuman conditions, risking life and limb for a pittance (and in some cases reportedly going unpaid for months), has long been one of football’s dirtiest secrets that most have chosen to ignore.
Take Barcelona legend Xavi, for example. Heading to play for and then coach Al-Sadd following a glittering career, the South Africa 2010 king has been accused of becoming a shill for the country whenever challenged on human rights abuses towards not just migrant workers, but also women and the LGBTQ community.
He will be an ambassador for the competition, but also acts as an unofficial tourism board proponent whenever not claiming that the country’s politics system works better than its counterpart in Spain.
Laughably, he was the lucky winner of a $ 266,000 Doha Bank lottery jackpot in 2017, but that makes perfect sense when privy to the sweetheart fluff he comes out with in its defense.
“When you walk around Doha and meet its people, their passion for football is clear. I really didn’t know what I was going to find when I first moved here, as it was a completely new experience for me, leaving Barça after 25 years, to go to a part of the world with a different culture and traditions,” he wrote as part of a letter to MARCA late last year.
“But I must admit that I like pretty much everything about living in Qatar. The weather is incredible, with sun almost every day, and it is a very relaxing place to work as the people are very respectful and friendly. It is also a very safe country with very little crime, making it a great place to raise a family,” he added.
Yet even in light of damning recent figures and boycott calls, any attempts to call off 2022 altogether are futile.
Despite his successes with La Roja, Xavi might be a little embarrassed to face his Qatari overlords should it happen. But, as a staunch Catalan, he might lose little sleep over Spain choosing not to board the plane, for example.
With La Liga opening opening the world’s first La Liga Lounge in Doha in 2017, though, and other dealings, further conflict would be caused between the ever-quarrelling championship’s organizers and the Royal Spanish Football Federation – making it an idea unlikely to be even entertained.
Closer to heart, the Barca team he expects to one day take over as manager would struggle to get sponsorship from huge firms such as Qatar Airways, whose logo ran across the iconic Blaugrana shirt in the mid-to-late 2010s, if needed in the future.
Less likely still to not go are reigning rulers France.
The inextricable link with Qatar through QSI has transformed Paris Saint-Germain and therefore Ligue 1 in bringing big-name stars such as Neymar to France, and therefore increased global attention, immediately putting out any flames of rebellion.
Daily Mail writer Martin Samuel has highlighted the English FA’s coziness with the regime too. He pointed to how its then-chairman Greg Clarke signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the FA’s Qatari counterpart in 2018, while also mentioning that Qatar has its claws in the Champions League, Europa League, Serie A and Bundesliga in addition to the already-mentioned top flights.
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Lastly, even if big nations were to drop out, others would still go wishing to take advantage of increased chances to win FIFA’s showpiece tournament, which remains the ultimate achievement in international football.
Ruled by crackpot president Jair Bolsonaro, who has influence over the CBF and celebrated on the Maracana pitch when the boys in yellow and green won the Copa America in 2019, record five-time winners Brazil would receive little discouragement from a leader dubbed a mass murderer over his coronavirus negligence.
Fans would still flock to Qatar en masse too, with attending a World Cup forever high up bucket lists no matter the shady circumstances behind its realization.
Too little, too late. And futile.
By Tom Sanderson