If you couldn’t keep up with all the European qualifier games, here is a quick round up of the action.
At the end of the first block of match day, European footballing powerhouses Germany, Italy and England lead the European qualifiers table for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.
Round 1 of the qualifiers started on March 24 and saw 55 European teams distributed in 10 groups looking to qualify, with a total of 10 match days played over four blocks in March, September, October and November.
Portugal and Serbia lead Group A with 7 points each. At the bottom of the group is Ireland and Azerbaijan having lost both qualifying games, though both teams are now looking forward to games in September for a chance to move up in the group.
Group B sees Spain in lead, having won two of their three games with the third ending in a draw. Sweden are in second position in the table after two wins.
Unbeaten Italy leads group C with all three games won, while Switzerland secures two wins at the qualifiers.
Former World Cup champions France lead Group D, having won two of three games played, with the third ending in a draw. Ukraine are next in the tally with three points following a draw streak.
Group E is led by Belgium which won two games each and drew another, bagging seven points at the end of match day 3. Next is the Czech Republic who ended with four points after one win, one draw and one loss.
In the lead in Group F is Denmark with 9 points with and Scotland close behind with one win and two draws.
Turkey are at the top of the standings in Group G with seven points each, while Netherlands, Montenegro and Norway take the next spots in the group with six points each. Both teams won two of their three qualifier games.
In Group H, last year’s finalists Croatia and 2018 FIFA World Cup host national Russia lead the table with a total of six points after winning two games. Slovakia is close behind with five points.
England are at the top of Group I with three wins while Hungary and Albania take the next two spots with 7 and 6 points respectively, having won two of their three games.
Armenia, which won all its games and secured 9 points, leads Group J. North Macedonia and Germany are second and third in their group with six points.
Notably, the Qatar national team returned home with an impressive unbeaten record in Europe. The Asian champions won two matches and drew against the Republic of Ireland.
As the host nation, Qatar automatically qualifies to play in the 2022 global sporting event but was invited to Europe for some friendly game time with seasoned European teams.
Marked by protests
Although the games were full of excitement, the European qualifiers offered a little more action off the pitch.
Four countries, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, brought politics to the pitch by wearing t-shirts to protest Qatar’s mistreatment of migrant workers. Managers and players alike took the opportunity to comment on the issues, though many said boycotting the 2022 event is not the answer.
Among those opposing the boycott was Belgian national football team coach Roberto Martinez who said it would be a mistake for teams to boycott the World Cup in Qatar.
“We know that there’s been big issues, but we know as well that because of the World Cup, the Qatari government has already put things in place, and we follow all the human rights institutions,” Martinez said.
“The message is very clear: Don’t turn your back. Boycotting is the easy escape. And then… make sure change is there… not just Qatar, but the Middle East countries can benefit from having the eyes of the world into this World Cup and make sure that we follow what human rights institutions are advising to do,” he added.
England manager Gareth Southgate also said that the English FA is working with Amnesty International to improve the situation in Qatar.
“My understanding is that Amnesty don’t want the tournament postponed or moved, they want to work and highlight issues that can be improved so it’s important we work with organisations like that,” Southgate added.
Experts have questioned the reasons behind the protests as well as the double standards being employed by some of the teams in Europe.
While rights groups did shed light on the issues, no eyebrows were raised by official football bodies or nations over rampant human rights abuses in Brazil or Russia ahead of the 2014 or 2018 world cup tournaments. However, this has not been the case for Qatar 2022.
Speaking to Doha News after a Dutch trade mission was postponed to protest the 2022 world cup earlier this month, Omar Salha, London-based Academic and Lecturer in International Diplomacy and Soft Power’, said that the move “raises an interesting question on the timing of the announcement”.
“Is this purely a humanitarian position that drives the motivation behind the decision made by the Dutch government? Or is this an act of political canvassing in light of the upcoming Dutch General Election scheduled to be held on the 17th March?,” he questioned at the time.
In comments to Doha News in March, the Dutch football federation admitted it was never in favour of the Qatari bid for the 2022 edition of the World Cup due to its “lack of football history and harsh temperatures”.
The protests emerged as Qatar’s historic labour reforms came into effect in March, introducing the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage.
In addition to the minimum monthly basic wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals QR (275 USD), the new legislation stipulates that employers must pay allowances of at least QR 300 for food and QR 500 for housing, should employers not provide workers with these directly.
As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar has drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enacting swifter penalties and further strengthening the capacity of labour inspectors, according to an announcement made by the Government Communications Office (GCO).
Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one-year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine.
The GCO also said that since the reforms and new minimum wage were announced in September 2020, some 5,252 companies with a total of 222,042 workers have already updated their payroll systems.
These labour reforms also include the dismantling of the controversial “kafala” or sponsorship system, becoming the first country in the region to do so.
Workers are no longer required to obtain an exit permit to leave the country, or a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to request permission from former employers to change jobs.
In an exclusive interview with Doha News, senior International Labour Organisation (ILO) official, Houtan Homayounpour said more work needs to be done to ensure the protection of workers in Qatar, though authorities should be recognised for the work that has gone into making these changes.
Meanwhile, FIFA President Gianni Infantino weighed into the global topic and assured protecting human rights is a top priority for FIFA.
“We need to be fair there (in Qatar) and admit a lot of progress has happened… in the conditions of the workers. Of course more can be done everywhere, always – even in Switzerland,” said the FIFA president.