Labour MP Kate Osborne explains why we can’t just ‘focus on football’ during Qatar World Cup

World Cup in Qatar

As the controversial Qatar World Cup begins, Labour MP and lifelong football fan Kate Osborne reminds us why we must never forget the migrant workers, women and LGBTQ+ people being brutally oppressed by the Qatari regime.

As we mark the start of the World Cup in Qatar, I’ve been reflecting on my visit there in 2016.

I’ve been a keen football fan from a young age and a Crystal Palace Supporter. Don’t judge! I’ve got a huge soft spot. And I’m a regular attendee at Newcastle FC of course, but also South Shields, who I watched play last month, Sunderland, Hebburn and Jarrow FC!

As such, I’m bitterly disappointed not to be able to cheer England on with enthusiasm for this World Cup.

Labour MP Kate Osborne at South Shields Football Club

Labour MP Kate Osborne at South Shields Football Club. (Provided)

I went to Qatar to see for myself the accommodation and working conditions of the many migrant workers and to speak to women’s groups. I was appalled then and the memories of what I witnessed are still vivid.

The conditions people were and are expected to live and work in were abhorrent, the stories from women heartbreaking.

Workers on the football stadiums were squashed into rooms with eight beds in – where there were meant to be four beds in a room. No other furniture or space meant they ate their meals on their beds.

I spoke to a group of waitresses who told me they were working 16 hours a day – transported in between diners and cleaning jobs with 27 women squashed into a van with 13 seats. Their bedrooms for the evening, ten women in one room.

On top of that the women would regularly face physical and verbal abuse from their managers.

 Anyone who spoke out about this in Qatar was arrested – we spoke to people in secret in the middle of the night.

The world knew about these issues in 2010 – yet Qatar still won the bid. It’s been six years since my visit and depressingly nothing has changed. These issues weren’t addressed, and instead we are meant to celebrate the World Cup starting today – on Trans Day of Remembrance no less.

We are still seeing arrests of people in Qatar who speak out to condemn the appalling human rights abuses carried out daily by the Qatari regime and they are then subject to unfair trials.

Since Qatar won the bid, we have seen multiple reports of further human rights abuses from women to LGBTQ+ people to forced labour building the football stadiums

Despite these abuses being well documented by many organisations, groups, and countries worldwide, including Amnesty international, Qatar have been allowed to ramp up the sportswashing of its image.

Earlier this month FIFA, still defending their decision, said, “we should focus on the football.”

We should absolutely not just “focus on the football” let’s make sure that at every possible opportunity we are calling on governments, sports people to raise the human rights issues.

We all need to make sure we shine a light on the abhorrent record, human rights abuses and laws that still exist.

Laws that subject women to oppression and censorship on almost all matters including having to have “male guardianship” who will make the decision on if women are allowed to study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad and access reproductive healthcare.

Singer Jade Thirlwall with Labour MP Kate Osborne holding a pink sign that reads: I support a trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban

Singer Jade Thirlwall with Labour MP Kate Osborne. (Twitter/Kate Osborne)

Let’s not forget that between 6,500 and 15,000 migrant workers died building the stadiums – and these disputed figures are likely to be under reported..

Let’s not forget a typical worker is toiling for 14-18 hours a day in crowded and unsanitary living conditions.

Let’s not forget that people are not allowed to speak out, the many unfair trials and new human rights abuse cases happen daily.

Let’s not forget LGBTQ+ people cannot live safely in Qatar, they face persecution, imprisonment and even death.

LGBTQ+ football fans cannot attend safely and are being told to act respectfully and hide their true selves.

Let’s make sure that all these things are spoken about.

And let’s make sure all of us are discussing these issues whether we are boycotting the games or if we are watching them with our mates down the pub.