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Monday, August 2, 2021

Norway votes against boycott of Qatar World Cup 2022

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FIFA has praised Qatar for the sweeping reforms it has introduced to address concerns ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Norway’s parliament voted on Sunday against boycotting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite running several campaigns in recent months against the host nation. 

“The Federal Parliament decides that the NFF will not adopt a boycott,” the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) confirmed to the press on Sunday after the vote.

This was announced after an extraordinary congress called by NFF in which 368 delegates voted against the boycott while just 121 were in favour. Its eight-member executive committee and representatives of 18 districts, as well as hundreds of professional and amateur clubs were in attendance.

The NFF was searching for an expert committee to support the move, however committees stood against a formal boycott. 

Committee chairman Sven Mollekleiv warned ahead of the meeting that a boycott was “unlikely” because “you need a critical mass behind it, an opposition that calls for it in the country, the UN to put pressure on the authorities, the business world, the trade unions and civil society to put pressure on it in the long term.”

Instead, the committee suggested 26 measures to strengthen and increase its gains in Qatar while also ensuring that FIFA doesn’t become complicit in so-called “sportswashing”- a form of whitewashing but through use of major sporting events to polish a country’s image.

Politicising the pitch: Whose politics are acceptable?

Norway is currently fourth in its World Cup qualifying group and would have been immediately eliminated if the the result of the vote was reversed. 

According to a report by Sport Bible, FIFA has previously warned NFF it would take away Norway’s right to participate in the qualifiers for the World Cup 2026 if it goes ahead with boycotting the upcoming mega sporting event, citing sweeping reforms in Qatar to address concerns.

This year’s qualifier matches are Norway’s golden moment to reclaim its presence after Euro 2000, which was its last major international competition.

Boycott campaign

The movement calling for a boycott first started when Norwegian club Tromso IL spoke out against alleged human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar last February.

“We can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football,” the first division club said.

‘Human rights – on or off the pitch’ were the words written on the bibs of the Norwegian football team as they warmed up for the first game of the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in March.

“It’s about putting pressure on FIFA to be even more direct, even firmer with the authorities in Qatar, to impose stricter requirements,” said Norway’s Coach Stale Solbakken. 

Following Norway, Denmark’s national football team joined the protest against Qatar during a match at the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. 

The Danish team wore t-shirts that said “Football supports change” before their game against Moldova, imitating the Dutch team who did the same a day earlier. 

The Danish soccer federation said the shirts will be signed and auctioned to raise money for projects with Amnesty International that help migrant workers in Qatar.

Earlier, the German football team also wore t-shirts spelling ‘HUMAN RIGHTS,’ though the country’s footballing body announced it would not boycott the World Cup in Qatar. 

Motives questioned

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 in March, 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 also in March, the Dutch football federation admitted it was never in favour of the Qatari bid for the 2022 edition of the World Cup – the first in the Middle East – due to its alleged “lack of football history and harsh temperatures”.

However, FIFA has argued that awarding the hosting of the World Cup to Qatar opens the door to social improvement, which was seen through a series of historic labour reforms revealed this year.

Days before the teams launched protests against Qatar’s mistreatment of migrant workers, the country announced major labour reforms, 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.

Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one-year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine. In the past few weeks alone, dozens of companies have faced penalties for violating the new rules.

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.

“We know there is still work to be done, but we need to recognise the significant progress achieved in a very short time,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in May.


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