One thing I didn’t touch on during this Interlull was the football schedule which has been given some clarity, if that’s the right word, by the release of the dates for the 2022-23 Premier League season.
As you all know, there is a World Cup next winter, taking place in Qatar, where it’s estimated 6500 migrant workers have died since the gulf state were awarded the tournament. As such, there’s a 42 day gap in the Premier League schedule, but the dates for the season itself aren’t markedly different from what we currently know. There’s an August start (6th) and a May finish (28th).
In 2017/18 we started on August 6th (Community Shield), and in 2018/19 our final game (the Europa League final) took place on May 29th. So we’re not being pushed into wildly new territory when it comes to dates, but obviously when your league stops for more than a month right in the middle of the season, it means the schedule before and after that break is going to be particularly hectic.
In their announcement, the Premier League say:
Match round 16 will be the last set of matches played over the weekend of 12-13 November ahead of the call-up period for the tournament beginning on Monday 14 November.
The first games take place on November 21st, giving teams a pretty small amount of time to prepare for supposedly the biggest, most important football tournament there is. Obviously that’s a consequence of having to play it in winter because it’s impossible to hold it during the summer there, and one of the things that has rarely been mentioned is the preparation time, and the potential impact it might have on the quality of the games. Surely coaches would want more time to get ready for a World Cup? I know it’s hardly the most important aspect of all this, but still.
It’s almost like the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar was made without thinking about things like that, how it might affect the trifling matter of player welfare as they are overloaded with games, or basic human/worker rights as men die of ‘natural causes’ on building sites, attributed to ‘acute heart or respiratory failure.’
It’s just not possible to marry FIFA’s insistence the decision was made to broaden the appeal of the game around the world with the reality of people dying to make that happen. I reckon football would continue to be very popular without playing the tournament in stadiums constructed under some of the most draconian working conditions imaginable.
Then, the idea that after this ghoulish whitewashing of the initial decision and everything leading up to the tournament itself, we should get a World Cup every two years is hard to stomach. I love Arsene Wenger and what he did for this club; I even think that some of his ideas about the international schedule have some merit; but I find it sad that he is an increasingly loud advocate for this organisation which has such a history and track record of corruption and greed, dressed up in a Football First costume that convinces nobody.
Back in March, Norway’s players lined up ahead of a World Cup qualifier wearing t-shirts which said, ‘Human rights on and off the pitch’. There was even a vote on a potential boycott should they qualify, after Norwegian side Tromso said, ‘We can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football.’
Yesterday, the Danish Football Association released an extraordinary statement (read here, you’ll need to run it through Google Translate), outlining a series of ‘critical initiatives to mark the continuing struggle for the improvement of human rights in Qatar.’ Those include:
– The men’s national team’s commercial partners do not participate and do not do commercial activities in Qatar – unless the initiatives are activist and part of the critical dialogue.
– The men’s national team’s commercial partners will relinquish their place on the team’s training clothes in favor of human rights messages.
– The DBU will greatly minimize its own travel activity to Qatar and will only participate in activities in Qatar that are related to sports or when it can contribute politically to improving conditions for migrant workers.
There are more too in the full statement. Considering the commercial/sponsorship side of things is so important, it’s groundbreaking stuff from the Danes. It will be fascinating to see if other countries follow suit, and what the response will be if they do. I wouldn’t expect FIFA to sit back and see their golden egg tarnished if there are other countries willing to support the same causes, because ultimately it reflects poorly on them too.
I guess there’s always an element of whataboutery to things like this. People who will say ‘Why aren’t you saying anything about this or about that?’, but this is a World Cup, and this is a football association using its upcoming platform at that event to help the lives of people who have toiled to make it happen. Or for those who will have to work on projects like this in the future. It also shines a very strong spotlight on the game’s governing body, and even Sepp Blatter admitted the decision to give Qatar the World Cup was a mistake. He is, of course, utterly tainted by corruption, and lacks credibility these days, but a stopped clock is right twice a day and all that.
It’s basically 12 months until it takes place, and in that time many of us will have to wrestle with the idea that a tournament we grew up with, and that has provided some of our best football memories (I so loved Mexico 86!) will be played when its never been played before and with such human cost to it. It’s an extremely unpleasant position for football fans to be put in, but pretending like it’s not reality isn’t the right way to go.