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The Netherlands football team introduced 'Football Supports Change' at the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Their key message: the situation of migrant workers in the World Cup host country, Qatar, needs to change. Football Supports Change' has now become a wider plan that has entered a new phase involving administrative diplomacy and talks with Qatar authorities and others.
Gijs de Jong is the secretary-general of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB). He says the actions of the Netherlands team have helped to ensure that talks are now being held at administrative levels in many nations, including Qatar:
'Football Supports Change' is now moving off the pitch and going back into the boardrooms.
"It is partly thanks to the players that this issue is now at the top of all international agendas. We are grateful to them for that. Of course, the players were not responsible for awarding the World Cup to Qatar; that was a decision by the national associations and international federations. Therefore, it is mainly up to the boards of these organisations to take the next steps. This means that 'Football Supports Change' is now moving off the pitch and going back into the boardrooms. Meanwhile, the KNVB has entered discussions with, among others, human rights organisations, international trade unions and the Qatar authorities. These talks are already underway, with a first visit to Qatar taking place last week."
Together with England, France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and recently also Norway, the Netherlands is participating in a dedicated UEFA working group that focuses on migrant workers’ rights in Qatar in cooperation with FIFA. This working group has drawn up a number of preliminary recommendations, including minimum standards for European countries taking part in the World Cup to adopt for any supplier agreement in Qatar. This will benefit the rights of migrant workers. Other recommendations involve ways to encourage transparency in discussions and processes.
Progress has been made in long-standing issues facing Qatar and the rest of the region.
Gijs de Jong: "We believe in cooperation. The KNVB never voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and we haven’t yet qualified for this final tournament, but as a socially conscious organisation we do want to encourage sustainable change in that region. We do this in collaboration with other associations and also have our own discussions. During our visit to Qatar last week, we were able to see for ourselves the level of progress that has been made in long-standing issues facing the country and the rest of the region. That progress is reflected in a number of reforms that have recently been accelerated under pressure from the World Cup. To give some examples: the abusive Kafala labour sponsorship system has been abolished, a minimum wage has been introduced for the first time and work is no longer allowed during the hottest hours of the day. This has made Qatar a forerunner in the region. But there is still a lot of work to be done, also to make sure that all laws are respected. Also after the World Cup."
As early as 2010, the KNVB expressed its opposition to Qatar hosting the World Cup. Conditions for migrant workers in the country must improve, but a boycott is not the best response. Human rights groups, international trade unions and other organisations stress that a boycott would actually slow down all positive developments. In their view, it is better at this stage to go to Qatar and use the World Cup to exert diplomatic pressure on the authorities to pursue reforms. The KNVB is doing this under the banner of 'Football Supports Change'. This slogan was first used by the players of the Netherlands team, after which the Belgium and Denmark teams also wore it on their pre-game shirts. This has helped the diplomatic efforts taking place behind the scenes move forward and these efforts will be stepped up in the coming period. If the Netherlands take part in the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, they will use their visibility there to encourage the desired developments.
The goal of all these efforts is to achieve significant and lasting improvements in the conditions of migrant workers in Qatar. For this reason, football is being used to accelerate the desired changes: 'Football Supports Change'. In the run-up to the World Cup, the pressure appears to be working, as Qatar has shown progress over the past three years when it comes to the situation of its migrant workers. Certainly in comparison to the region. However, much of this progress is still on paper; the work is not done until these changes are implemented in the workplace.