"To anyone who cares about human rights, please keep talking about the Qatar World Cup"
"I was asleep for years."
Finland captain Tim Sparv has penned an open letter calling on his fellow professionals to speak up about the Qatar World Cup and reports of the exploitation of migrant workers.
For context, a recent Amnesty International report highlighted how authorities in Qatar have failed to thoroughly investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers in the country over the past decade. The Guardian have also reported that 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since they were awarded the World Cup.
Published in The Players' Tribune, Sparv's letter reveals how it wasn't until he actually travelled to Qatar with the Finnish national team that he began to properly think about the issues surrounding the 2022 World Cup. He described himself as being "asleep for years" before deciding to look into the matter with the help of FIFPRO, the international players' union.
"To anyone who simply cares about human rights. Please keep talking about the Qatar World Cup," he wrote.
Sparv also recalled speaking to some migrant workers in Qatar with the help of FIFPRO, and said people should continue to raise awareness of the working conditions there because:" the workers — trust me — they appreciate it."
Looking back to when it was announced that Qatar would host the tournament, he recalls assuming organisations like FIFA "knew what they were doing."
"Sure, it seemed a little strange to pick a tiny desert country for the biggest football tournament in the world. But hey, they probably had a plan for improving society down there somehow ... right?"
“The fact that the tournament’s been awarded to a country where migrant workers’ rights and LGBT+ fans’ rights are not respected is a massive concern.”
Ahead of the Club World Cup, Liverpool supporters union @SpiritOfShankly have raised urgent questions to the Qatar authorities. pic.twitter.com/DeL07sdOct
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) October 30, 2019
After reading about the human rights violations in Qatar, he said he was "startled," and is now on a mission to keep banging the drum in order to force real change in the country.
"It seems crazy that while migrant workers were suffering and even dying in Qatar I was worrying about the distance between our midfield and our defence," he admits.
"You hear about unpaid wages, abusive employment relationships and a disregard by many employers for the reforms that have been passed," he added.
The Helsinki midfielder also warned people to be sceptical of reports that Qatar has reformed its labour laws.
"Qatar has said that it has improved its labour laws," he wrote. "You read that and go, Oh, great! But in that meeting, it became clear that these laws are not being implemented very well."
Recalling a meeting with a female worker in Qatar, he explained that she told him of "having to work 16 hours a day without any days off." He continued:
"She also said that if a female worker had a complaint, the police would always take the employer’s side. We’re talking about stuff like rape allegations here. These were grave allegations, and yet these women were not even being listened to.
"Even with the latest positive reform, let’s not for a minute think that things are O.K. in Qatar. There is still a long way to go."
Sparv is careful to acknowledge that change has taken place within FIFA in recent years, with a lot of people who took bribes having been kicked out. But he emphasises that the battle for reform and justice is still ongoing, saying: "We have more influence than ever before — we just have to use it."
He expresses sympathy for players who might be scared to speak out on the issue out of fear of being ostracised by their clubs and sponsors, realising how lucky he is to have not that barrier, always playing for "sensible clubs."
But citing the bravery of players like Marcus Rashford and Peter Gulasci, the Hungarian goalkeeper who spoke out against his country's anti-LGBT laws, he is encouraging players to find the courage.
"I would encourage other players to be brave," he said. "Qatar isn’t even a political topic, it’s a humanitarian one. If nothing else, just highlight it. Bring it to people’s attention."
Nordic countries have been the most outspoken in their opposition to the Qatar World Cup, with Norway players wearing t-shirts during their national anthem that promote human rights 'on and off the pitch'.
On and off the pitch’
The Norwegian national team send a powerful message to the World Cup organisers in Qatar 🇳🇴👏 pic.twitter.com/p39oDwrh4h
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) March 24, 2021
They are not, however, going to boycott the tournament after a vote from the nation's football clubs.
Sparv is on board with this stance, saying he doesn't think boycotting is the solution.
"It would not bring any positive change to the workers in the country — quite the contrary."
He concludes the letter with one final plea for influential voices in the game to use their platform to raise awareness and put pressure on FIFA and Qatar.
"Maybe some people will abuse you for raising your voice — perhaps they would either way," he said.
"Maybe you will have some emails to reply to and some phone calls to answer.
"But when the history of this World Cup is written, you will be on the right side."