Australia World Cup team first to release video statement criticising Qatar

The Australian team's posts a message for Qatar. Yasmin Bodalbhai reports

Australia’s World Cup footballers have released a collective statement criticising host Qatar’s human rights record - becoming the first side to do so.

In a video statement, players including ex-Arsenal and Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan take issue with the country’s treatment of migrants workers and the LGBT+ community.

“There are universal values that should define football. Values such as respect, dignity, trust and courage,” captain Ryan said. “When we represent our nation, we aspire to embody these values.”

Accusations over the treatment of migrant workers and a poor record of human rights have plagued the Gulf state, where same-sex relationships are criminalised.

Human Right Watch reported LGBT+ people in Qatar have been arrested and beaten in police custody as recently as September.

The group interviewed four trans women, one bisexual woman, and one gay man - all of whom said they were verbally and physically abused at an underground prison in Doha.

Qatar has come under fire for its treatment of LGBT people. Credit: PA

But on Wednesday, the UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverley was criticised for suggesting that LGBT football fans heading to the World Cup should be “respectful of the host nation.”

Mr Cleverly urged fans to show “a little bit of flex and compromise” and to “respect the culture of your host nation”, before Downing Street distanced itself from his comments.

“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation,” he told LBC Radio.

“They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”

Qatar has insisted LGBT attendees will not face sanctions and stated it wants everyone to feel welcome and secure, but has also asked for people to be respectful of the state's culture.

The foreign secretary's comments came after campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed he was arrested while staging an LGBT protest in the country to highlight human rights abuses.

James Cleverly's comments caused a stir, as Libby Wiener reports

Further distancing the government from Mr Cleverley’s comments, Tory party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi told ITV News on Thursday all fans should be free to watch the football.

“No one should have to compromise, my message to your viewers – their sexuality, or their sexual preference or their identity in any way should be able to enjoy this festival of sport,” he said.

“I know that is what they will be guaranteed, certainly from our government.”

He added he did not did not hear the interview Mr Cleverley gave but insisted “if he were here he’d completely agree with me.”

'No one should have to compromise': Nadhim Zahawi insists the message to LGBT+ fans heading to Qatar is to stay true to themselves

Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers has long been criticised by rights groups, with many hundreds believed to have died while helping the country’s unprecedented construction programme.

The Australian team acknowledged conditions have improved for workers there, in particular through the partial dismantling of the kafala system, which allowed employers to take workers’ passports and block them from leaving the country.

But the players noted the implementation of reforms “remains inconsistent and requires improvement.”

“These migrant workers who have suffered are not just numbers, like the migrants that have shaped our country and our football,” the players said.

“They possess the same courage and determination to build a better life. Addressing these issues is not easy. And we do not have all the answers.

“We stand with Fifpro, the Building and Wood Workers International and the International Trade Union Confederation, seeking to embed reforms and establish a lasting legacy in Qatar.

“This must include establishing a migrant resource centre, effective remedy for those who have been denied their rights, and the decriminalisation of all same-sex relationships.

“These are the basic rights that should be afforded to all and will ensure continued progress in Qatar. This is how we can ensure a legacy that goes well beyond the final whistle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

Earlier this year, Australian Josh Cavallo of Adelaide United became one of the highest-profile players to have come out as gay.

Legendary England striker and current BBC Sport presenter Gary Lineker later said he wants to see a Premier League player come out during the Qatar World Cup to send a strong message to the hosts.

Denmark’s football association, meanwhile, said it would introduce measures to highlight the human rights situation in Qatar, including limiting travel to the host nation to avoid promoting it.

The country’s kit manufacturer in September released three shirts including a black strip to honour migrant workers who died during construction for the tournament.

Hummel said: “While we support the Danish national team all the way, this shouldn’t be confused with support for a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives.”

The hosts have disputed the number of lives lost, with its Qatar 2022 supreme committee responding, “we whole-heartedly reject the trivialising (of) our genuine commitment to protect the health and safety” of migrants workers.

The FA announced in September that England’s Harry Kane will join counterparts from eight other European nations, including Wales, in wearing a OneLove rainbow anti-discrimination captain’s armband during the tournament.

Kane has said he will wear the armband even if it is prohibited by FIFA, with the Football Association of Wales saying it would accept any fines issued to Gareth Bale for doing the same.

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