On the 20th of June 2021 Norwegian football federation and its clubs will assemble for an extraordinary general meeting to discuss the question of a Norwegian boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. All football clubs in Norway can take part by registering online before the 11th of June.
Norwegian football fans are backing, in unison, the minority opinion of the NFFs Qatar comittee. We believe that on the 20th of June clubs should vote to boycott the FIFA World Cup if it is held in Qatar. If the World Cup is moved to another nation where serious, systematic human rights violations have not been uncovered, Norway should take part should we qualify.
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is so far the worst example of how far football has strayed from its original idea and values. The Qatar World Cup is not just a propaganda tool for a dictatorship which systematically violates human rights, but has in and of itself caused human suffering and deaths. This is a problem football itself has created, and it is footballs – both the NFF and FIFAs – responsibility to clean up the mess. The NFF Qatar committee report is a devastating indictment of both the Norwegian and international FAs nearly non-existent pressure to improve human rights in Qatar. We agree with the commitee that the time for action is now, but we disagree that we should use even more of the remedies that has already been proven ineffective.
The Qatar report proved what we already know: The working conditions in Qatar are extremely poor, and people are being exploited and mistreated. The country has brought certain reforms, but in reality, very few concrete improvements have come to pass for ordinary people and guest workers, even ten years after being granted the tournament. It is too late to make change now, and we have no faith that the precious time left before the tournament can be used to bring about change that would make it morally acceptable to play football matches which has already come at a major cost of human life. We also do not accept that the Norwegian national team will be used to bring credibility to the Qatari regime and FIFA when we know the conditions this championship is built upon.
We must put a limit to how much human suffering we accept just so we can go and play and watch football. And when that line is crossed, we must be willing to use the most drastic measure we have – to refuse to play these matches. Even if we support the committee’s 26 demands to the FA, we have no faith that “dialogue with demands” will bring about change of any sort. For dialogue and demands to be effective they must come with consequences when demands aren’t met. It is hard to see any instances where a boycott would be on the books unless it also applies to Qatar. What future atrocities would it take for us to put our foot down and say “We don’t want to be a part of this?”
The majority of the NFF Qatar committee are unable to give an answer to where the limit is when it comes to human rights abuse in our names. The consequences of our unwillingness to set this limit could be huge. There is no reason to believe that worse championships won’t happen if no-one are willing to put some power behind the demands for a more humane and just football. The FIFA president has very close relations with Saudi Arabia, another authoritarian state investing a lot of money into propping up its world image through sport. The committees idea of “dialogue with demands” seems incredibly naïve when faced with the powers who are using football as a way to clean their image and cover up human rights abuses. The main question should not be what consequences a boycott will entail – it should be what consequences will taking part have? If we take part in this, we are legitimizing the Qatari regime and are helping to boost that regimes status despite obvious human rights violations. International football will get even worse and will lead to more misery for more people in the years to come.
The greatest problem in football is FIFA. The Qatar committee’s timeline of what FIFA has done to remedy the human rights situation at their own tournament is shocking. All legal reforms have come after pressure from NGOs, while football has done nothing. FIFA is a corrupt, ruthless organization who only care about money and benefits for their own leadership. Mega wealthy actors with shady agendas are more than willing to take part in this corruption so that they can use football for their own propaganda purposes. The committee timeline shows in no uncertain terms just how little footballs ruling elite care about the people working to make the tournament happen. At the same time the committee majority shows a naïve understanding of what kind of organization FIFA is. We have no faith that FIFA will change and actually work to make football better without its member nations putting clear limits to what football can stand for. The change must come from below and up, with clear demands and consequences when demands aren’t met.
No dialogue or boycott can save workers who have suffered and died in Qatar. But a boycott will set a precedent for the future and give a clear indication of limits for FIFA and host nations. A Norwegian boycott would be a brave standpoint we believe could cause ripples throughout the football world and mount international pressure to have the tournament moved. Polls show large majorities support a boycott in countries like Germany, The United States, The Netherlands and Denmark. More and more in the grass roots are voicing their support for meaningful change in football, which recently came to a head in opposition to the Super League. The Norwegian boycott debate and the protest by our national team has already spurred on action in other countries. We are not alone in the world if we choose to not take part in Qatar – we stand together with large majorities of ordinary people and football lovers. Norwegian football has a unique chance to spearhead the fight for a different and more just football. The Qatar Committee report clearly shows that this is absolutely necessary and about time. This is an opportunity to make change because we have a many members who are engaged and a football democracy to be proud of.
This case may be the most important to face Norwegian football since World War Two. NFF has used a lot of resources to spread fear of the negative economic consequences a boycott could have for Norwegian football and its clubs. We are therefore happy to see that the committee is very critical of the weak basis for the numbers NFF has put forward. Regardless, this case should not be reduced to something less than it actually is: This is not about short-term consequences for Norwegian football, its about what football should be like in the future. A no to the Qatar World Cup is a no to a corrupt football that leads to suffering and death. It is a yes to a better and more just football.
PS: NFFs declared values are safe, inclusive and brave. “These values are taken into every judgement and decision” they write. NOW is the chance to prove that it is true.
Signed by: Norsk Supporterallianse, Stabæk Support, Tigerberget, GodsetUnionen, VikingHordene, Klanen, Supporterklubben 3050, J-feltet, Kjernen, Uglan, Maakeberget, BriskebyBanden, Gaukereiret, Plankehaugen, Saftkokaradn, 1894 Jessheim, B-Gjengen, Bataljonen, Svaberget, Stormen, Oddrane, 2830 Gul og Svart, Isberget, KanariFansen, Kråkevingen, Tornekrattet, Forza Ranheim, Kongsvinger Supporterklubb
Our comments to the Qatar report and the committee’s conclusions:
Boycott as means of action
The main argument used by the committee majority to go against a boycott is based om Sigmund Lolands academic study of boycott action and the effect of these throughout history. We believe that the committee is blindly leaning on a report which says very little of the situation we are currently in. In his text, Loland is trying to squeeze boycotts through history into academic theories thus failing to understand that the Qatar case is historically new. The Qatar World Cup is about football going off the rails: About corruption during the awarding of the tournament, sportwashing of an authoritarian regime, and massive human rights violations against people as a direct consequence of the actions of football. It is also about a country completely lacking the prerequisites needed to be a host nation. It is not possible to reduce this case to only be about what helps working conditions in Qatar, the way the committee and the Loland report does.
To us a boycott is about saying that this is unacceptable, and we want no part of it. Loland would probably classify this as “virtue signalling”. But in practice it also means that Norway must contribute to changing modern football. And to create international pressure to make it happen.
Loland asks in his report “What boycott are we talking about in the Qatar question?” His answer is nine lines long where he simply tries to put the entire case into a theoretical category in stead of actually trying to understand what is the basis for the wish to change in the real world.
A just boycott
To compare this question of boycott to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow – which was about global cold war politics – is meaningless. One comparison makes sense, however: The Norwegian labour movement boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The Workers Athletics Association refused to go and aid Hitlers propaganda tool, and therefore travelled to the alternative Barcelona Olympics (Moved to Amsterdam) together with worker athletes from other countries. As the Qatar question this was not an top-down political initiative, but parts of the sports world itself who decided not to go to help legitimize the Nazi regime. Today few people will argue that the decision to boycott Berlin was a mistake. Also, not many will argue that taking part in Berlin 36 did not help enhance the image of Nazi Germany and enhance Hitler’s power. We should not compare Nazi Germany to Qatar, but both tournaments are obvious sport washing spectacles whose primary reason was to create positive PR for the nations regimes. In the case of Qatar we have the added problems mentioned before: Corruption, human rights violations and a lack of prerequisites to host.
Loland does mention the 1936 boycott, but makes it easy for himself by simply banding it together with the sports strike during the second world war, even if this was a completely different kind of boycott. He concludes that the boycott took place in an extreme situation that all other options were exhausted. This might be a correct description of the situation in 1940-45, but not in 1936 when large parts of political Europe still felt Hitler should be reasoned with. Neither Loland or the Qatar Committee shows any real wish to understand why the boycott movement has grown so much in Norway and the world. It is not only about improving working conditions in Qatar, but about changing footballs trajectory out of this negative spiral and turn it onto something better. It is about not helping to bring glamour to a regime and international FA we simply cannot identify with.