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It will be a much-discussed and eventful year for the sports world. Because what motivates a sports association to hold the Games of Fraternization in China and to assign a party like a World Cup to Qatar? It goes without saying that these events are dubious and controversial. In addition to these two major sports events, there are also several sports events in questionable countries in terms of human rights this year. And yes, this does not always go smoothly here and in several other countries, but in the vast majority of them you can at least say and write that down.

2022 is already being called the year of sports washing. The practice of using major, prestigious, international sport to enhance reputation by organizing and/or sponsoring competitions and tournaments. The Middle East is currently working energetically, but China and (Belarus) Russia in particular have also more than ‘earned’ their spurs in this.

In this much-discussed, evenful year, everyone’s motivations will be measured against the moral bar. However dubious this development may be, it will not pass us by unnoticed. In spite of – or because of? – this prominent “sportwashing” year, the mind and reason are undeniably tilting. The protest sounds are getting louder and more frequent. And are an issue in themselves.

The various (false) arguments to legitimize a visit to *1 – or at least watch – the Qatar World Cup are almost inexhaustible. But I am now mainly concerned with the value and effect of statements from authorities, associations and (former) players who go there anyway. Obviously opinions differ, even within our action committee, Cancel Qatar 2022. My fellow committee members count their blessings, because: every statement is one, and: you can also do nothing at all. Personally, I experience the gratuitous nature of these kinds of statements and my instinctive reaction is: if you think it’s so bad, stay away from it, that’s the next step.

But it’s easy for me to talk from my lazy chair, I’ve often been reproached. Because I cannot become world champion, it is not my profession to go there and of course I can never really know for sure whether the situation in terms of human rights and working conditions has not improved, or will still be, thanks to this World Cup. Or that conversely, a massive boycott, or rather displacement, will lead to improvements. No one knows for sure and reasons according to their own situation, perspective and involvement. Yet many football supporters and followers agree: this World Cup should never have been assigned to Qatar and it really shouldn’t take place there.*2 Unfortunately, in many cases a but…

Either way, don’t let anyone stop you from having your say on these issues. If you’re going to go or see it anyway, so be it. But if you feel something isn’t right, throw it out. No matter how crookedly reasoned, your feeling speaks. If 2022 does indeed become the much-discussed, ultimate ‘sportswashing’ year, then in retrospect it may well be the year in which the commercially overloaded ship has turned the tide. The counter-movement is unstoppable.

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*1. Eindhovens Dagblad, author Hein Meurs
World Cup football is not allowed to be played in Qatar; but there is an arsenal of excuses to do it anyway

– Qatar World Cup? When you ask more or less sane people about it, the answer is almost invariably: ‘No, this should never have been awarded to Qatar, it should never have been played there’ –

If all these people, everywhere in the world, would support their opinion by loudly protesting against it and also ignore everything that is happening in the context of this World Cup, Qatar would have lost it long ago. That could be even now. But if you then ask them to translate this into action, we see an almost automatic, classic reflex. The arsenal of explanations and excuses to tolerate it and then go there or look at it, now that we are almost there, is almost inexhaustible.
There’s something wrong everywhere

An anthology. Why are you (..) only bringing this up now, now it is too late / Human rights organizations are also against a boycott / There is something wrong everywhere, even here in the Netherlands / It is not up to me or us, but to (politics, unions, media companies, in short:) others to do something / If we don’t go, the dead will fall for nothing, relatives miss out on benefits and the accommodations are built for nothing / We are not responsible for bribery (but benefit from it, HM) / It’s too complicated and intertwined with modern football.

  • Players, coaches: we have to focus on the World Cup, because they are footballers, not activists or politicians. In addition, the Netherlands also trades with Qatar. And we make a statement, right? Well then!
  • Football Associations: Our presence puts pressure on Qatar to make improvements. Thanks to us, some improvements have already been made. And we have made sure that there is a human rights passage in future World Cup bids.
  • Government, politics: it is primarily up to football itself to do something about this. Of course we say that Qatar should pay attention to human rights, but keep the dialogue open. Because we have to think about our trade relations
  • Media: We are reporters, not activists. It goes on anyway, we can do no more than write how pernicious it is and follow it critically there. But don’t bother players with it, they aren’t responsible for it. And are you protesters yourself consistent?
  • Human rights organisations: improvements have been made thanks to our strategy (keep going, exert pressure), but much remains to be done. But if everyone leaves Qatar, nothing will happen. The World Cup is necessary to achieve our goals.
    We are supporters, not activists
  • Supporters, viewers at home, other consumers: we are football supporters, not activists. We are just spectators, that doesn’t bother anyone else. Why does the sport, our football, have to lead the way in this? If we do not look, the dead will not come to life and human rights will not benefit either.

Whatever. Be honest and just admit that you don’t want to miss it. For there is no acceptable, plausible, legitimate reason for wanting anything to do with an event that directly killed thousands of people and was proven corrupt and bribed.

Eindhoven resident Hein Meurs is actively involved in opposing the World Cup, including through the Cancel Qatar 2022 Committee and @CancelQatar2022 (twitter).

*2. De Volkskrant, author Teun van de Keuken
Such a World Cup in Qatar is not fun for anyone. Not even for sports journalists. Do you want to write nice lyrical pieces about Memphis, squeezing and gegenpressing, do you want to swoon over the smell of freshly cut grass, compare the Dutch school of Cruijff with the Dutch school of Rembrandt and football with ballet (that covert Nureyev always comes into play? ), you suddenly have to start thinking and writing about human rights violations. That’s not fun at all! If you found that interesting, you would have become a foreign correspondent. Anyway, if you go with blinders on and just write about the game, everyone will think you’re a numb and otherworldly sports fan. So you promise to take a good look around the home front. If you see anything suspicious, you will report it. You’re even starting to get some fun with it. You are even more important now!

Our own Willem Vissers has already taken a closer look in Qatar. He beats the Arab Cup and looks ahead to the World Cup. What about human rights? In his first contribution, Willem has found a journalist and professor who is not so impressed by all the fuss. This James Dorsey puts things into perspective in a fun way. Did Qatar get the World Cup only through corruption? Ach: “What we don’t always understand in the rest of the world is that the culture of doing business in Fifa and in the Gulf region is similar.” Right: twice corrupt is not corrupt. Dorsey actually sees a problem with communication: “When Qatar won the election, they thought that everyone would be in favor of that World Cup from that moment on. They were unprepared for endless stories about corruption and workers’ rights, when everything has been going on there for years.”

Very sorry about that communication. If they had been prepared, they could have told a better story. That they have been violating human rights for years and that people are always dying in construction. Such are the local customs. Also calling on homosexual fans not to show their sexual orientation and arresting journalists who are too curious (want to do their job) is apparently cozy folklore. It is easy to guess that Dorsey is not in favor of a boycott: “If they take Qatar away from the World Cup, the consequences will be far greater than a boycott is worth.”

Vissers loves football very much. If there is a World Cup, he wants to go there. Understandable. Therefore, he will (consciously or unconsciously) seize anything that argues against a boycott. You can’t do a football reporter to write stuff like this. You should leave that to a correspondent or investigative journalist.

Anyway: the World Cup has gone to Qatar thanks to corruption. It is held in winter because it is too hot there in summer. The construction of the stadiums for the World Cup killed 6,500 and although the Qatari promised to get better, 50 construction workers died last year, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Journalists cannot do their work freely and homosexuals must keep a low profile. Whoever cheers at a goal will have blood on his kicks. You can’t hold a World Cup in a place like that. The tournament must be moved. That and nothing else should be the commitment of the KNVB and other football associations. It’s still possible.

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Het wordt letterlijk en figuurlijk een veelbewogen jaar voor de sportwereld. Want wat beweegt een sportbond om de Spelen der Verbroedering in China te houden en om een feest als een WK voetbal aan Qatar toe te wijzen? Het hoeft verder geen betoog dat deze evenementen dubieus en omstreden zijn. Behalve deze twee grote sportmanifestaties zijn er dit jaar ook nog diverse sportevenementen in twijfelachtige landen qua mensenrechten. En ja, ook in Nederland gaat dit niet altijd even soepel, maar hier mag je dat tenminste nog gewoon zeggen en opschrijven.

2022 wordt nu al het jaar van de sportswashing genoemd. De praktijk waarbij grote, prestigieuze, internationale sport wordt gebruikt om de reputatie te verbeteren door wedstrijden en toernooien te organiseren en/of te sponsoren. Het Midden-Oosten is momenteel voortvarend bezig, maar met name China en (Wit-)Rusland hebben eveneens hierin hun sporen ruimschoots ‘verdiend’.

In dit veelbewogen jaar zullen eenieders beweegredenen langs de morele lat worden gelegd. Hoe dubieus deze ontwikkeling ook is, het zal niet ongemerkt aan ons voorbijgaan. In weerwil van – of juist vanwege? – dit prominente ‘sportwashing’-jaar, zijn het gevoel en verstand onmiskenbaar aan het kantelen. De protestgeluiden worden steeds luider en frequenter. En  vormen een kwestie op zichzelf.

De uiteenlopende (drog)redeneringen ter legitimering van een bezoek aan – of het toch kijken naar – het WK Qatar, zijn schier onuitputtelijk. Maar mij houdt nu vooral bezig wat de waarde en het effect zijn van statements van instanties, bonden en (oud-)spelers die er sowieso naartoe gaan. Als vanzelfsprekend verschillen de meningen daarover, zelfs binnen ons actiecomité, Cancel Qatar 2022. Mijn medecomitéleden tellen hun zegeningen, want: elk statement is er één, en: je kunt ook helemaal niks doen. Ikzelf ervaar toch meer het gratuite van dit soort statements en denk daarbij al snel: als je het zo erg vindt, blijf er dan weg, dát tikt pas aan.

Maar ik heb makkelijk praten vanuit mijn luie stoel, is me al vaak verweten. Want ik kan niet wereldkampioen worden, het is niet mijn vak om ernaartoe te gaan en ik kan natuurlijk nooit echt zeker weten of de situatie qua mensenrechten en arbeidsomstandigheden er niet beter op zijn geworden, of nog worden, dankzij dit WK. Of dat omgekeerd juist een massale boycot, of liever nog verplaatsing, tot verbeteringen zal leiden. Niemand weet het zeker en redeneert al naargelang zijn eigen situatie, perspectief en betrokkenheid. Toch zijn heel veel voetbalsupporters en –volgers het erover eens: dit WK had nooit aan Qatar mogen worden toegewezen en het zou daar eigenlijk niet mogen plaatsvinden. Helaas volgt dan in veel gevallen een maar…

Hoe dan ook, laat niemand zich ervan weerhouden om zijn of haar zegje te doen over deze kwesties. Als je er toch naartoe gaat of ernaar gaat kijken, het zij zo. Maar voel je dat er iets niet klopt, gooi het eruit. Hoe krom geredeneerd ook, je gevoel spréékt. Als 2022 inderdaad het veelbewogen, ultieme ’sportswashing’-jaar wordt, dan zal het achteraf ook best eens het jaar kunnen zijn waarin de wal het commercieel overbeladen schip heeft gekeerd. De tegenbeweging valt niet meer te stoppen.

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