Will the boycott of Philipp Lahm of Qatar wake up the world of football on the question of human rights?


I am not part of the delegation and I do not intend to make the trip as a supporter.” Monday, August 8, the former German footballer Philipp Lahm, former captain of the ‘Mannschaft’ world champion in 2014 will not travel to Qatar for the Football World Cup. However, it is very present in the organization of international competitions. Phillipp Lahm is indeed today president of the organization of Euro 2024 in Germany.

The reason for his boycott of the World Cup? The alleged non-respect of human rights on the preparation of the competition. “Human rights must play a bigger role in awarding competitions”, he declares. “As players, you can no longer act as if you did not know it, protests the ex-captain of the German team. This should not happen again in the future.” He also regrets the attitude of FIFA in awarding the competition. “Human rights, the size of the country… All this was not taken into account in the choice to entrust the World Cup to Qatar.

What is reproached in Qatar?

Construction sites for the 2022 World Cup stadiums began in 2010. Human rights organizations quickly stepped up to denounce the treatment of migrant workers on these sites. In February 2021, the British daily The Guardian revealed that “more than 6,500 Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers have died since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup a decade ago.” These numbers are potentially larger, as those for Kenya and the Philippines are not known. These two countries are important suppliers of workers to Qatar.

For its part, Qatar denies all the accusations. On March 28, 2021, a spokesperson for the government authority in charge of the organization and construction of stadiums assures in a press release that “we have always been transparent about the health and safety of workers”. There was only “three work-related and 25 non-work-related deaths”, since construction began in 2014, he says. According to him, « the preparations (…) have already brought significant benefits to the workers.”

The ecological footprint of the organization of this tournament is also much talked about. As the tournament takes place a few dozen kilometers from the Rub-al-Khali desert in Saudi Arabia, where the temperature can reach 45°C in summer. It is for this reason that the competition has been moved to winter, when the average temperature is 25°C. As the temperature remains high, Qatar has installed a giant air conditioning system in stadiums, drawing heavy criticism from climate advocates. Qatar is therefore committed to achieving carbon neutrality for this event, by offsetting emissions through investments in renewable energies. In addition, the seventh stadium built for the competition, called “Stade 974”, in reference to the 974 containers used for its construction, was designed with recycled materials. It can also be dismantled once the competition is over.

How do football players position themselves?

In March 2021, several European selections take symbolic action on alleged human rights abuses in Qatar. On March 24, players from the Norway team sport a t-shirt proclaiming “Human rights on and off the pitch”, before a match played in Gibraltar. In addition, Norway evokes at this time the possibility of a boycott. Finally, on June 20, 2021, the Federation announced that it would take part in the 2022 World Cup. At the extraordinary congress, 368 delegates voted to reject the boycott. 121 were in favor of it.

1978: a controversial World Cup in Argentina

  • From June 1 to 25, 1978, the World Cup is organized in Argentina.
  • At this time, the country was ruled by General Jorge Rafael Videlawhich subjects the Argentines to a dictatorship.
  • The Argentinian leader uses football as a tool for propaganda.
  • A movement of boycott of the competition was born in 1977.
  • Some players from the Netherlands team, Cruyff and Van Hanegem, refuse to go to the competition.
  • In France, in the sporting world, the idea of ​​a boycott fails to take and only a few French personalities wonder about the attitude to adopt.
  • Among them, the footballer Dominique Rocheteau and the President of the French Football Federation (FFF) Fernand Sastre.

The next day, the German players publish a photo showing the eleven players of the selection lined up, each one having on his chest one of the eleven letters of “human rights”, human rights in English. On March 27, the Netherlands took over the action and Denmark promised mobilization during the next day’s match against Moldova. In France, the captain of the national team Hugo Lloris indicates to support the movement. “It’s a good thing, players have the right to come forward, he declares. I think there is no player insensitive to what has been said or written in relation to all this.”

For his part, the president of the FFF Noël Le Graët announced on March 22, 2022 in an interview with the French regional daily Ouest France that the Federation did not plan to boycott the competition. “The political subject is delicate, but the players are obviously free to express themselves on these questions.”, he explains. Two months later, on May 19, the coach of the France team Didier Deschamps assures that his players are “free to express themselves” on the fate of the workers of the construction sites of the World Cup.

On April 9, 2022, during a Ligue 2 match between Guingamp and Toulouse, a “Boycott Qatar 2022” banner was briefly seen in the stands. The president of the FFF, formerly boss of the Guingamp club, had invited the president of Fifa Gianni Infantino to attend the meeting. Organizer of the World Cup, FIFA has remained discreet on the issue of respect for human rights in Qatar.

She says “believe in freedom of expression and the power of football to bring about positive change.“As a general rule, political statements are prohibited at football matches. However, the selections which mobilized on this question were not sanctioned.


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