Simon Cobbs, co-founder of advocacy group Sussex Friends of Israel, has stated that Fifa’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is a huge problem for footballs fans who are concerned about the country’s human rights record and its funding of terrorist groups.
In an interview with the Jewish Media Agency, Mr Cobbs said that unless the Qatari government renounces terrorism and improves working conditions for foreign labourers, then the World Cup should be taken away from them. Terrorism should not be rewarded, he declared.
Sussex Friends of Israel and other pro-Israel activist groups are urgently calling on football fans to speak out against the Qatari government’s links with terrorist organisations and the “slave labour” conditions endured by construction workers who are building the World Cup infrastructure.
“There is growing evidence that Qatari is supporting the Isis movement. But it is unequivocal that it supports Hamas,” says Mr Cobbs.
According to a report in the The Telegraph, Qatar is aiding fundraising efforts for Islamic State terrorists who are killing and looting in Syria and Iraq. Qatar, however, denies any involvement.
But there’s no disputing the fact that Qatar is sheltering exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and is a major financial supporter of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the territory since 2007. It is claimed that Hamas has used aid money to build terror tunnels. Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor has publicly stated that the tunnels “were funded by Qatari money.”
Mr Cobbs and Sussex Friends of Israel are also concerned about Qatar’s abysmal human rights record, which presents an ethical dilemma to football fans who are appalled by the deaths of foreign labourers. Hundreds of migrants from Nepal, Bangladesh and India have perished as they worked 12-hour shifts in the blistering heat. Last month, 44 Nepalese workers died from cardiac arrest and workplace accidents.
Then there is the question of how to deal with Qatar’s rampant anti-Semitism. According to Arutz Sheva journalist Giulio Meotti, Qatar is “actively encouraging jihad against the State of Israel.” Meotti cites a Qatari television show – based on a book by late Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani – which features a Jewish prostitute denying the Holocaust and caricatures of Israelis demanding the deaths of Arabs. Qatar also hosts conferences in which Jews and the State of Israel are demonised.
There is also the unresolved issue of whether an Israeli stamp in a passport will bar someone from entering Qatar. And although the Qatari government has said it will let the Israel national football team participate in the World Cup on its territory, there is no getting around the fact that Israeli passport holders are still officially banned from entering the country.
In the background, there are accusations of corruption and bribery. The Sunday Times has found evidence allegedly showing that Mohamed bin Hammam, a member of of Fifa’s 24-person executive committee, paid more than $5 million to soccer officials to secure support for his country’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Activists fear that all these issues – corruption, terrorism, slave labour and anti-Semitism – will be brushed aside for the sake of expediency. It would be embarrassing and hugely expensive for Fifa to admit it made a mistake. “People are whitewashed by the lure of the World Cup,” observed Mr Cobbs.
To highlight these issues and to put international pressure on Qatar, Sussex Friends of Israel and affiliated groups have embarked on a campaign to highlight the country’s continued “disregard of international law in supporting terror groups and its direct involvement in countless deaths and enormous suffering in countries around the world.”
Campaigners have already made their presence felt. On Friday September 19, a flash mob dressed in orange jump suits were photographed outside the Qatari embassy in London. Two days later, a Sunday, there was a football-themed protest outside the embassy. In the run-up to the Sunday event, Sussex Friends of Israel urged Jewish leadership groups to lend their support to what is described as an “incredibly important opportunity to show our disgust at Qatar’s continued refusal to stop funding terror.”
“We’re asking people to wear football shirts or team colours at the protest on Sunday,” said Mr Cobbs. “We’re asking lovers of football to come along and say not in our name.”
The message is loud and clear: it’s time to kick terrorism out of football.
First published September 20 for the Jewish Media Agency