The Socceroos, including their captain Mat Ryan, have issued a strong collective statement of protest over the human rights record of Qatar, the country which will controversially host the tournament starting next month.
The Australian men’s national team released a video on Thursday morning with 16 players delivering their message line by line, raising concerns about the “suffering” of migrant workers and the inability in Qatar of LGBTI+ people “to love the person that they choose”.
Ryan and teammate Jackson Irvine have previously aired their individual views on human rights issues in Qatar, but this is the first time a collective players’ voice has been heard in the buildup to the tournament.
“There are universal values that should define football values such as respect, dignity, trust, and courage. When we represent our nation, we aspire to embody these values,” the players said.
The Socceroos’ video was released alongside an open letter from the players’ union Professional Footballers Australia and a statement from the governing body Football Australia addressing the human rights and workers’ welfare concerns which have been raised around the host nation.
The 16 Australian players involved in the video are Ryan, Irvine, Bailey Wright, Jamie Maclaren, Nick D’Agostino, Craig Goodwin, Danny Vukovic, Andrew Redmayne, Mathew Leckie, Mitchell Duke, Mitch Langerak, Denis Genreau, Cameron Devlin, Adam Taggart, Kye Rowles and Alex Wilkinson, the president of Professional Footballers Australia.
In the video, they said “we have learned that progress has been made both on paper and in practice”.
They highlighted that the kafala system (which enabled employers to take away workers’ passports and block them from leaving the country) has largely been dismantled, that working conditions have improved and a minimum wage has been established.
However, the players said while the reforms are an “important and welcome step, their implementation remains inconsistent and requires improvement”.
“These migrant workers who have suffered are not just numbers. Like the migrants that have shaped our country and our football, they possess the same courage and determination to build a better life,” they said.
“Addressing these issues is not easy. And we do not have all the answers. We stand with Fifpro, the Building and Wood Workers International and the International Trade Union Confederation, seeking to embed reforms and establish a lasting legacy in Qatar.
“This must include establishing a migrant resource centre, effective remedy for those who have been denied their rights, and the decriminalisation of all same-sex relationships.
“These are the basic rights that should be afforded to all and will ensure continued progress in Qatar. This is how we can ensure a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.”
PFA said its members’ views may not be universally popular, but acknowledged that they had been put in an unenviable position by decisions made by the game’s administrators.
“Some will believe they have not gone far enough whilst others will call on them to stick to football and stay out of ‘politics’, despite this being a matter of human rights,” a joint statement from PFA CEOs Kathryn Gill and Beau Busch read.
“This polarity says much about the courage of the players and also the increasingly fractured nature of the world. As we near kick-off, the players of every nation will continue to be asked about their position on Qatar.
“Acknowledging that the players did not award the World Cup host country is critical. They have no say in its delivery and operations. In the absence of leadership from administrators tasked with awarding hosting rights and managing the tournament, it has fallen to players, coaches and fans to provide moral leadership.”
Football Australia, which had until Thursday remained silent on the issue of hosting the tournament in Qatar, also called for the establishment of a Migrant Workers Centre to continue to represent the rights of the workers beyond December 2022, as well as solidarity with LGBTI+ communities.
“As the most multicultural, diverse, and inclusive sport in our country, we believe everyone should be able to feel safe and be their true authentic selves,” the statement said.
“Whilst we acknowledge the highest levels of assurances given by HH Amir of Qatar and the president of Fifa that LGBTI+ fans will be safely welcomed in Qatar, we hope that this openness can continue beyond the tournament.”
Other teams plan protests in Qatar, with the Socceroos’ Group D opponents Denmark producing an all-black playing shirt to honour the workers who died during the construction of stadiums and infrastructure, while players from nine teams will wear “One Love” armbands.