Should Scotland cancel soccer match with Qatar over labor abuses?

Controversy surrounding the 'appalling labor abuse' in Qatar and recent FIFA corruption scandal has led some Scottish politicians and fans to demand that the upcoming match be cancelled. 

Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP
Activists hold posters in front of the Hallenstadtion in Zurich, Switzerland, on Thursday, during a protest by the Avaaz organization against corruption within the FIFA and against Qatar's slave labor law.

The Qatar national soccer team's match against Scotland this Friday has raised hackles amongst Scottish politicians, unions and fans, adding to the controversy over the desert nation's hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

Some want the friendly match to be canceled in protest against the deaths of migrant workers building stadiums for the World Cup. They also say the award of the World Cup to Qatar - a country with little soccer tradition, a lack of infrastructure, and a stifling climate - reeks of corruption.

The Scottish Football Association - the world's second oldest - says the match will go ahead and that human rights issues should remain separate from sport. Qatar denies wrongdoing in connection with its successful World Cup bid.

Normally, a match between Qatar, ranked 99th in the world, and Scotland, a historic heartland of the game but long in the doldrums, would draw little outside interest.

But the furore piles more unwelcome attention on Qatar and FIFA, soccer's international governing body, on top of a corruption scandal engulfing FIFA.

Seven FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland last week on suspicion of corruption and a separate investigation is being carried out into the award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 Qatari bid.

The Qatari team have already felt the heat of fans' disdain. At a friendly match on Sunday against Northern Ireland in the English town of Crewe, Irish fans waved their wallets in the air and chanted "bribery."

Neil Findlay, a member of the Scottish parliament, submitted a motion saying that canceling the match would send "the strongest possible message to the Qatari authorities that Scotland finds the current plight of construction workers unacceptable."

The Scottish Trades Union Congress decried the "appalling labor abuse" by Qatar of the construction workers. In a statement, it urged the SFA to speak out.

Human rights

Former MP Dennis Canavan said the situation recalled the time in 1977 when Scotland, despite similar protests, played Chile in the Santiago stadium where military ruler General Augusto Pinochet had imprisoned, tortured and killed his opponents.

"The SFA turned a blind eye," he told Glasgow's Herald newspaper. "Today, however, it could be argued that cancellation of the Scotland v Qatar match could help save the lives of stadium workers by sending out a strong message to the Qatar authorities and FIFA that we will not tolerate the rising death toll caused by the continuing exploitation of slave labor with scant regard for health and safety."

The SFA, which sees the game as an important preparation for the next stage of its EURO 2016 qualifying campaign, said in a statement it was aware of the reports about workers' conditions in Qatar and it condemned human rights abuses.

But it said: "It is important to separate this sporting fixture from the serious human rights issues emanating from Qatar."

"As noted recently by Amnesty International, it is important that the universal reach of football can be used in a positive manner to highlight inequalities and be a force for good."

Arguments for and against the match going ahead were posted on the Tartan Army fans message board.

And Pat Nevin, a former Scotland international and a leading commentator, said Scotland acting alone would be a futile gesture "like a flea bit on an elephant's backside."

It would be better to campaign for all European nations to boycott the World Cup, he said.

"I understand the moral argument for not playing them. But do you play against Russia? Do you play against China? If I had a campaign I wanted to shout and bawl about, it would be all of football campaigning about the World Cup, the conditions of workers and the like."

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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