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First step to equality needed, argues FA’s general secretary
Netherlands squad may visit migrant worker camp at World Cup
Progress on women’s and LGBT rights in Qatar should be part of any legacy from the country hosting the World Cup, the general secretary of the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has said.
Gijs de Jong has pledged that the Netherlands team will make the case for a “better future” in Qatar during the tournament next November and December, including “symbolic” acts such as visiting migrant worker camps. But as well as protecting improvements already agreed on workers’ rights, football should push for broader human rights change, De Jong said.
“As a legacy, of course we would want it guaranteed that the legislation and reforms agreed in the past few years would be permanent and implemented fully across the whole country,” he said. “That’s on kafala, on heat protocols, on minimum wage. It would be even better if the work centre introduced by the BWI [Building and Woodworkers’ International] was made permanent.
“The joint committees [between workers and employers] would be great. But it would be even more great if we made a first step on equality between men and women and also on the LGBT discussions.”
Concern over exploitation of migrant workers has dominated the years leading up to the World Cup, with the Qatari government eventually instituting reforms. Whereas a recent Amnesty report suggested implementation of the laws had been undermined by “complacency”, LGBT rights in Qatar have been subject to less scrutiny.
Qatari authorities have assured travelling LGBT supporters that they will be able to feel safe in the country, and rainbow flag livery will be allowed at stadiums. But “instigating … sodomy” is still illegal under article 296 of the country’s penal code. Women’s rights have also received less focus, but a Human Rights Watch report this spring argued that the country’s male guardianship system “denies women the right to make many key decisions about their lives”.
De Jong said initial discussions regarding LGBT rights had taken place with the Qatari Supreme Committee for delivery of the World Cup, as part of inspections taken by the Uefa working group on Qatar of which the English FA is also a member.
“When we were there last time … the focus was on workers’ rights but we also had a session with the national human rights committee. It was just one session of one and a half hours, so let’s not make that an example for everything, but we discussed some sensitive issues openly. Fifa have promised of course to allow the rainbow signs, the flags in the stadia, but we would like a little bit more.”
The Dutch national team, alongside the KNVB, has developed a strategic response to the World Cup under the banner “football supports change”, with the message appearing on the team’s shirts before a qualifying match in March. De Jong says the country has been engaged in a response since 2015, when it lobbied Fifa to introduce human rights considerations in assessing World Cup bids, but that this response has stepped up since last year in dialogues with Amnesty International, the International Labour Organization, and the BWI, as well as with Fifa and the Supreme Committee.
De Jong says the country will engage in “symbolic action” during the World Cup to “show our commitment” to change.
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“We’re still thinking and discussing with people what the best way will be to attract attention for this,” he said. “We could go to a good example [of a migrant worker camp], focus on that and show how you can organise the rights of migrant workers in a good way. That could be an option, but you get through in different kind of ways.
“We are positive people in the Netherlands mostly. We believe in the future and we want to show what the future can look like. So we’re probably more tended to work to a positive than a negative example, but it can be different ways. We want to find a symbolic action which shows our commitment. Symbolic for some people sounds cynical, that we’re doing it for whitewashing or something like that, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We want to do something together with BWI and ILO to show a better future.”