DOHA: The hosts of both of the two biggest global sporting events on the 2022 calendar are facing boycott threats, but they’re handling the scrutiny much differently.
Driving the news: When European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup kicked off last week, players from three countries seized the opportunity to protest the human rights conditions in host nation Qatar.
- Norway donned shirts that said “Human rights on and off the pitch.”
- Germany spelled out “human rights” on their shirts.
- The Netherlands wore shirts that said, “Football supports change.”
Background: Qatar has faced scrutiny over the poor conditions migrant workers are facing as they help build the infrastructure for the tournament.
- The Gulf kingdom has introduced major reforms of its labor laws since being controversially awarded the World Cup, in a sign that this kind of public pressure can work.
- But in late February, The Guardian reported that over 6,500 migrant workers had died in the last decade.
- Top clubs in Norway recently called for a boycott, though that currently looks unlikely.
The big picture: There are also calls for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, but that pressure is coming mainly from human rights groups and politicians, rather than the athletes themselves.
- It’s hard to envision stars with the profile of Germany’s top soccer players taking a similar stand against the mass detentions in Xinjiang, because so much money is at stake for the players and their clubs.
Flashback: After German soccer star Mesut Özil, then with English club Arsenal, condemned China’s repression of Uyghur Muslims in a 2019 tweet, Chinese state TV canceled plans to air Arsenal’s next game and later refused to refer to Özil by name on air. Özil is no longer with Arsenal.
- That might sound familiar to NBA fans who recall the fallout in 2019 after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests.
What to watch: Sponsors of the 2022 Olympics are under pressure to pull out, or at least to speak out.
- But China’s blacklisting last month of H&M and other retailers who raised concerns about the use of forced labor to pick cotton in Xinjiang sent a clear message: Even the slightest criticism could see you cut off from China’s massive market.
- And while Qatar has promised reforms, China continues to deny that it is holding Uyghurs in detention camps, despite all evidence to the contrary.