There’s a gulf between
Roger Ratcliffe and the World Cup

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Picture the scene inside Leeds’s elegant Kirkgate Market one summer’s morning back in the 1980s. I was standing at a fruit and vegetable stall wearing a red tee-shirt emblazoned with a radical slogan. I was longish-haired and bearded, and as I perused a display of oranges I saw the market trader studying me. “I wouldn’t bother with them, mate,” he pointed to the oranges. “They’re South African.”

It hadn’t taken him more than a second to decide I was an ethical, hippy-dippy cultural stereotype. Another customer laughed but it was a serious issue. Like many others at that time I supported the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott of anything from South Africa that might legitimise and sustain its hateful regime. That ended in the early 1990s after the freeing of Nelson Mandela, although I still find myself hesitating before lifting a bottle of Cape wine off supermarket shelves.

Now, boycotts are back for those of us who believe in the power of collective action. Unfortunately, Russia has been hard to boycott since few of its exports were on general sale here, although I’m told that many drinkers quickly abandoned Russian vodka for Khor, Khortytsa or other Ukrainian brands. Meanwhile, some people have deleted their Twitter accounts because the platform has become a plaything of that insufferable embryonic Trump, Elon Musk.

The most immediate ethical protest is boycotting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. I believe we all have a duty to avoid listening to or watching just one second of broadcast that might add to audience figures and be held up as proof of the tournament’s success.

There are plenty of reasons why Qatar, in the words of one headline, is “blighted by a dust-storm of controversy”. How this Gulf state came to be awarded the World Cup has always been suspect. Many believe it secretly bought the rightto host the matches, and last week the former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said it was part of a$14.6 billion arms deal withFrance. But that’s not my motivation for a boycott. There are three major grounds for not legitimising the tournament.

One is that long before the first ball was kicked around 30,000 low-wage workers from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines were brought in to build football stadia and other facilities, but conditions were so bad that between 2014 and last year, shockingly, 6,500 of them had died. Another is Qatar’s abuse of human rights. According to Amnesty International, women face discrimination in every area of their lives, while laws curtailing all freedom of expression and assembly are used to stifle critical voices. And a report by Human Rights Watch says that members of Qatar’s LGBTQ+ community have been detained and physically abused by police. Earlier this month the country’s official World Cup ambassador made the outrageous claim that homosexuality is “damage in the mind”.

I know a lot of football fans will be driven by national pride to support our home nations, England and Wales. But they shouldn’t be playing. If they have any integrity, they and other participating teams from civilised countries should catch the first available flights out of Qatar. As for David Beckham’s role promoting the World Cup and pocketing a much-needed £10m he should hang his head in shame.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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