The German national team covers their mouths as they pose for a team photo before the Qatar 2022 World Cup match against Japan on November 23, 2022 – Copyright AFP/File Ina Fassbender
Human rights protests at the World Cup have drawn everything from sympathy to indifference to outright hostility, with Qatar’s critics often finding themselves in the firing line.
Germany’s hands-over-mouth protest, a reaction to a ban on wearing a “OneLove” bracelet, was quickly followed by accusations of anti-Arab racism and mockery of the country’s Nazi past.
Other acts of support for the LGBTQ community and Qatari immigrant workers, often by European teams or fans, have generated more suspicion than solidarity among many people around the world.
“Put your hands over your mouths and we’ll hold our noses so we don’t smell your racism,” Tunisian Fathi Jouini said in a Facebook post, referring to the German team.
Similar attitudes were seen elsewhere, with many lashing out angrily. In conservative Saudi Arabia, an Arabic hashtag that translates to “the gay team” was trending on Twitter after the German protest.
The highly charged, often offensive, exchanges on social media follow a moody build-up to the World Cup, when European officials and media criticized Qatar’s rights record.
According to Dana El Kurd, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Richmond in Virginia, critics of the tournament are sometimes guilty of “double standards.”
“The discussion about the World Cup in Qatar, while sometimes raising absolutely correct and valid criticism, has also been motivated by hypocrisy and double standards in many cases,” he told AFP.
“I think it would be an omission if we didn’t recognize that racism plays a big role,” El Kurd said.
“They just see a country of Arabs in thobes (robes) and assume an extremist religious autocracy, when in reality people behave quite freely in Doha in terms of their personal choices.”
– ‘Ridiculous and insulting’ –
This view gained traction in the case of Germany when former international Sandro Wagner described the thobe as “Qatari bathrobes” while commentating on a match, setting off a social media storm. He later apologized.
When energy-rich Qatar announced its first major deal to send liquefied natural gas to Germany on Tuesday, many on social media were quick to react.
“Your usual reminder that human rights concerns rarely get in the way of strategic interests,” read a post on Twitter.
During the tournament, some fans wore rainbow clothing, and government officials from Germany, Belgium and Great Britain were seen wearing “OneLove” armbands in stadiums.
But parts of the world have shown little enthusiasm for a human rights debate centered around a soccer tournament.
Senegalese media have largely ignored the issue and comments have been muted in Japan, AFP correspondents said.
The soccer bosses of Japan, Serbia and Croatia are among those who have preferred to stay away from rights issues.
“There are inequalities and injustices…but some countries in Western Europe don’t reflect on their own contribution to the injustices,” said Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University in Qatar.
“When we look at the jerseys that teams wear, or the balls they play with…they are produced in Southeast Asian countries, with cheap labor,” added Reiche, co-author of a book on Qatar’s World Cup politics. . .
However, sociologist Nandita Sharma, whose work focuses on migrant labour, warned against dismissing criticism of Qatar as a purely Western phenomenon.
“People are weaponizing and misrepresenting criticism of Orientalism and imperialism to insulate the Qatari state from criticism,” said the University of Hawaii at Manoa professor.
“To hear that our criticism and concerns about migrant workers in Qatar are an example of ‘Western imperialism’ or ‘whiteness’ is ridiculous and insulting,” he told AFP.