The road to Qatar 2022 begins for England at Wembley on Thursday. Before a single step is taken, Gareth Southgate’s players will drop to a single knee in support of Black Lives Matter.
In Qatar, the Gulf state that will host the next World Cup, many black and minority lives have been lost during the construction of stadia and tournament infrastructure.
A report in the Guardian recently claimed 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar’s inhumane working conditions since they won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago.
Gareth Southgate’s England team begin their World Cup qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022
So it is hard to see how the two things sit comfortably side by side. A group of footballers coming together in support of black welfare while at the same time beginning a qualification process towards a sporting tournament built on a foundation of ethnic exploitation and death.
If that sounds rather dramatic then it isn’t really. Our footballers made the decision to cross the line between sport and politics when they embraced the BLM cause and now they are standing face to face with one of the realities of that call.
In Norway, the issue is already being discussed. Six top-flight clubs have called on the Norwegian FA not to send a team to the World Cup. Tromso, the first club to make the stand, have described the situation in Qatar as horrifying.
It seems inevitable that such a conversation is heading our way, too. Our clubs are unlikely to get involved — the bigger picture is not a Premier League speciality — but that doesn’t mean questions will not be asked by those capable of seeing beyond the borders of a football pitch.
The Al Bayt stadium, built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Al Khor, north of Qatar’s capital Doha
England will send a team to Qatar, presuming they qualify.
We know that. There will be no grand gesture by our FA, no dramatic stand taken. But that does not mean our players must go there in ignorance, humming blissfully along to the tunes playing in their headphones. They are supposed to be better than that now. That is what they tell us.
When the players of Sheffield United and Aston Villa became the first to take the knee before a game last summer, it was not meant to provide a solution to a problem. It was meant to indicate that our footballers are not blind to the injustices of the real world. It was supposed to signal the start of a conversation.
Nobody is suggesting now they should not follow their dreams and try to win a World Cup. Nobody is telling them to turn their backs on Qatar. Nevertheless, if their commitment to Black Lives Matter really does go deeper than a gesture made on a football field before kick-off then they must have a look at the place they are aiming to get to next year and understand what it is exactly that happens there.
England players take the knee, and they should not be blind to the injustices of Qatar 2022
World Cup organisers will dispute the Guardian’s numbers. The number of deaths linked directly to stadium construction is much smaller. There have also recently been some reforms regarding issues such as labour rights.
But the death and discrimination is there all the same. It’s in the pages of reports by the United Nations and Amnesty International. It is inescapable.
So there needs to be a dialogue in this country about who has suffered and why in the name of the 2022 World Cup and, as they continue their stated aim to ‘eradicate racial prejudice’, the first words really need to come from Gareth Southgate’s England players.
If they don’t speak up then what does the act of taking the knee really mean?
There’s nothing super about endless subs
David Fairclough was known as Supersub but it was misleading. Most of the time life as Liverpool’s first reserve in the 1970s wasn’t very super at all. Most of the time, he never even got on.
Indeed the closest Fairclough often got to the ball was at full time when tradition dictated the unused sub would carry it down the tunnel in the Liverpool physio’s plastic bucket. ‘It summed up how useless I felt,’ Fairclough once said. ‘I hated that bucket.’
Back then teams were allowed to name just one substitute and at a club as successful as Liverpool it was a thankless role. Terrified of being replaced for good, injured players would routinely stay on the field.
All of this came to mind at Old Trafford last Sunday when both Manchester United and West Ham named two goalkeepers among their lists of nine replacement players. Choosing his bench used to be part of a manager’s skill. No longer. Now it’s just another way big clubs with deeper squads have an advantage.
In Fairclough’s day the club’s number two goalkeeper would be off somewhere playing for the reserves. Now he’s on the bench sitting next to the number three goalkeeper, the latter with as much chance of ever actually getting on the field as Fairclough’s despised plastic bucket.
Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris typifies the ‘not quite good enough’ that sums up Spurs’ squad
Lacklustre Lloris sums up Spurs
It is fitting that Hugo Lloris was the player to mention problems in the Tottenham dressing room after their Europa League exit.
Lloris, the club’s goalkeeper and captain, typifies what we see when we look at Jose Mourinho’s squad. He’s good but just not quite as good as he really should be.
Crewe were in thrall to Gradi
As a junior reporter occasionally covering Crewe in the 1990s I soon discovered direct access to manager Dario Gradi was almost impossible to obtain.
What I did glean back then was that Gradi — a brilliant football brain — was a rather arrogant, supercilious man who seemed to have a whole football club in a state of thrall.
Nothing I have read about the 79-year-old in the last few days has done anything to persuade me that view was wrong.