Show FIFA’s moral relativism the red card

Posted: Thu, 10th Nov 2022 by Stephen Evans

Show FIFA’s moral relativism the red card

Human rights defenders are perfectly entitled to ignore FIFA's plea to 'focus on the football' and use the World Cup to shine a spotlight on Qatar's regressive regime, says Stephen Evans.

"Please, let's now focus on the football!".

That was the desperate plea of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and general secretary Fatma Samoura, who last week sent a letter to all 32 nations participating in the forthcoming World Cup, asking them not to lecture Qatar about moral values.

The usual excitement that precedes the world's foremost festival of football has been noticeably absent this time. Instead, the build-up has been dominated by discussion of serious human rights abuses, including Qatar's criminalisation of homosexuality, the limited rights of women in the country and the plight of migrant workers.

At a time when many people are campaigning for greater LGBT inclusion in the sport, the men's World Cup is about to be hosted by a country in which homosexual acts are illegal, considered haram under sharia law. Under the Qatar constitution, Islam is the state religion and sharia shall be "a main source" of legislation. Punishments for same-sex sexual activity can include fines, prison sentences of up to seven years, and even death by stoning. One might have hoped that the awarding of the World Cup might help shift attitudes in the country. But there's no evidence of that yet. Just this week, Qatari World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman described homosexuality as "damage in the mind."

The country has a terrible record on women's human rights, too. Qatar's male guardianship rules severly restrict women's freedom of movement. Women need a male guardian's permission to marry. Once married, a woman can be deemed "disobedient" if she does not obtain her husband's permission before working, travelling, or if she leaves her home or refuses to have sex with him, without a "legitimate" reason. Men can marry up to four women at a time without needing permission from a guardian or even from their current wife or wives.

Women can't even be primary guardians of their own children, and discriminatory laws relating to divorce can leave women trapped in abusive relationships.

Earlier this year, a female World Cup official fled Qatar due to the threat of facing 100 lashes and a seven-year jail term for 'extramarital sex', despite reporting she was raped.

Meanwhile, flogging is used as a punishment for alcohol consumption or illicit sexual relations and its penal code criminalises 'blasphemy'. Conversion to another religion from Islam is defined by the law as apostasy – and is illegal.

But never mind all that, say FIFA, let's focus on the football! According to the letter, "One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity. No one people or culture or nation is 'better' than any other."

Pass me the bucket.

Diversity isn't about tolerating the intolerable. 'Respect for diversity' here is code for turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. The idea that no culture is "better" than any other asks us to put aside our disdain for cruel, harmful, discriminatory, and degrading practices and simply accept that some cultures 'just do things differently'.

This cultural relativist approach may be expedient with a world cup on the way, but in rejecting the universality of civil and political rights, FIFA are throwing LGBT people, religious minorities, and women under the bus.

Such relativism downplays common values. It suggests that human rights, equality, liberty, democracy, and the separation of religion and state aren't for everyone. Tell that to the Iranian women risking their lives to rid themselves of the tyranny of the misogynistic theocracy they've been living under.

One may wonder why this tiny desert sheikhdom, with little in the way of football pedigree, stadiums or the necessary infrastructure was chosen to host the tournament in the first place. Many suspect shady deals. The fact that eleven of the 22 committee members who voted on awarding the tournament to Qatar have been fined, suspended, banned for life or prosecuted for corruption tells its own story.

The infrastructure it was lacking has been hastily assembled by migrant labourers who have endured miserable conditions, including low wages, non-payment of salaries and unsafe workplaces. Last year the Guardian reported 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded, although the exact figure is disputed.

As Norway's Football Association president Lise Klaveness told FIFA's Congress in Doha earlier this year, this was a tournament "awarded in an unacceptable way, with unacceptable consequences…Human rights, equality, democracy, the core interests of football, were not in the starting XI."

FIFA's shameless letter asks nations not to "allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists."

If football has been dragged anywhere, it's into the gutter, by FIFA.

Human rights defenders and rights respecting nations are perfectly entitled to use the forthcoming tournament to shine a spotlight on Qatar's Wahhabi inspired regressive regime. Those who value liberal democracy should show FIFA's moral relativism the red card.

What the NSS stands for

The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.

Tags: LGBT, Women