There has been much debate about the Scotland v. Qatar game at Easter Road this Friday. Many supporters have decided to boycott the game following the revelations that around 1,200 workers have died in Qatar during the construction of buildings and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup – awarded to Qatar in somewhat controversial circumstances with some top officials from Fifa presently embroiled in allegations of corruption.
Some of Scotland's most prominent human rights activists and leading supporters' organisations have now spoken out against the human rights violations in Qatar, with some comparing the country's record to that of apartheid South Africa. They have urged the Scottish Football Association to scrap the game. Given this is not going to happen at this late stage, those same opponents to the game going ahead have pleaded to Scotland fans to abstain from this particular game, arguing it will send a clear message to Qatar that such violations are wholly unacceptable. I fully understand and empathise with this view. However, I question whether an empty Easter Road Stadium would have any impact on the Qatar authorities. I suspect the answer is probably not.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has distanced himself from the controversy, saying all he is interested in is playing football and getting players vital match preparation ahead of next weekend’s vital Euro 2016 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin. But many people are uneasy with Scotland’s choice of opponents and, given the number of people who have already died in the construction of stadia for a competition organised by an allegedly corrupt organisation, it’s not difficult to see why.
That said, I believe that Scotland actually going ahead with the game has highlighted the serious human rights issues in Qatar perhaps more than if there was no fixture. More people are now discussing the matter as a result of the game. I would bet several shillings that if Scotland were not playing Qatar, the human rights issues there would not be given the prominence it now has.
I read an excellent suggestion the other day from a fellow Hearts supporter. He opined that the Scotland players should take to the field wearing black armbands and offering a wreath to the opposition at kick-off rather than the usual exchange of pennants etc. A minute’s silence just before kick-off would also give the Qataris the message that Scotland and indeed the rest of the world, knows full well what is going on in their country and that it is wholly unacceptable. Surely this would be a more powerful message than thousands of empty seats at Hibernian’s ground.
I am going to the game and I’m taking my ten year old grandson Jack to his first Scotland game. He has been looking forward to this occasion for some time and I know it would break his heart if the game was scrapped at the last minute. Now I know this pales into insignificance when compared to what is going on in Qatar but scrapping the game would mean little to the Qataris and cause considerable logistical problems to the home country.
Jack was given a Barcelona home shirt from his aunt when she returned from Catalan recently and he loves to wear it when playing football with his pals and his ageing Papa, pretending he is Lionel Messi - while his Papa is just a mess. The Barcelona shirt has Qatar Airways on its front and there are thousands of children like Jack all over Scotland who will have similar attire. I’ve not heard many protests about this.
I say let the game go ahead and urge the SFA to make some kind of statement immediately before the game – black armbands and/or a minute’s silence – to express their disgust at the human rights abuse in Qatar.
It might upset Fifa – but they have got enough to contend with. And it would show those suffering in Qatar that Scotland is with them – and will not forget them.