Commentary: FIFA stands idle as Qatar holds a player against his will
There is a stomach-churning stench surrounding the beautiful game. Money, it seems, comes some way before morals with soccer's blinkered leaders.
The latest example of FIFA's forelock-tugging fawning was highlighted this week, when the unbelievable tale of Zahir Belounis began gaining some momentum around soccer circles.
In a nut-shell, Frenchman Belounis is in a contractual dispute with his former Qatar club. As a result, the club (his employers) will not allow him an exit visa, which he legally requires to be able to leave the country (read his open letter here to Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane).
Qatar is one of just two nations – the other being that great bastion of human rights, Saudi Arabia – which insists foreign workers have an exit visa, and the system has a history of abuse.
The shameful situation surrounding Belounis and his young family is the latest damning story to emerge from Qatar in recent months, and raises further questions over its suitability as host of the 2022 World Cup.
But does FIFA care? Well, let’s see. They were approached to apply pressure to the Qatar club on behalf of Belounis, and the best response they could offer was:
“FIFA is unable to intervene in this matter given that Mr. Belounis chose the option of contacting an ordinary court in Qatar instead of the second option available to refer to FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC).”
So, as Zahir Belounis had the temerity to pursue his claim through legitimate legal channels, FIFA is now washing their hands of him.
This is the organization which demands that their staff work tax-free for the duration of the FIFA World Cup (it happened in South Africa and will do so again in Brazil - nations which could certainly do with the money).
This is the world governing body which will come down on governments like a ton of bricks should they dare seek to intervene in the workings of national associations. Countries have served suspensions for buckling to government interference.
And yet, in this instance, FIFA has shied away from this particular confrontation.
Why is that? Maybe because FIFA’s negotiations over the shifting of the 2022 World Cup has ruffled enough oil-soaked feathers as it is.
But do we really expect FIFA to keep in line with the soccer community’s moral outrage? The scourge of racism remains alive and well in Russia, the World Cup hosts for 2018. As with Qatar and their lack of workers’ rights, the repugnant racism which we witness in Russia is nothing new.
And, though I’m heartily beating FIFA on this occasion, they’re not alone in snuggling up with morally objectionable leaders.
Take the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in awarding the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing. When challenged on China’s human rights record, they arrogantly insisted that the Olympic Games could be used as a tool for good and help highlight the concerns.
These people, the stewards of global sport, must tip-toe around politically-charged issues, I get that. But awarding major sporting events to nations, in the hope that – in doing so – they will somehow soften strict leaders and alter the lives of the oppressed, is delusional.
To Russia I’d have said this: “Address, aggressively, the deep-rooted racism which remains in your country, and we’ll talk again in 2034.”
And to Qatar: “Equal rights for all. Human rights abuses must stop and – quite frankly – stop waving dollar notes in front of me, I’m not impressed.”
That’s never going to happen. Money before morals. That’s the way of FIFA’s world, but it’s an unpleasant world and one which allows the suffering of others, like Zahir Belounis.