As the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar this week, Kohzo Tashima, the president of the Japan Football Association (JFA), told journalists it was “unfavorable that topics other than soccer are being raised at this point.” Echoing FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s comments to “focus on the football” rather than human rights issues, Tashima was responding to questions about how he viewed European teams’ – including France, Germany, and England – protests against the Qatar government’s discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
“As an association, we of course want to bring issues of discrimination and human rights towards a better direction, but we think right now is the time to focus on soccer,” Tashima said.
What’s truly “unfavorable” is that Tashima’s comments contradict JFA’s pledge of “social and international contribution”. They effectively let Qatari authorities off the hook for serious rights abuses, including LGBT people being subject to arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment in detention, laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and wide-ranging labor abuses of migrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal and India who toiled in scorching heat for extremely low wages to build and deliver the US$220 billion worth World Cup infrastructure.
Thousands were injured or died “unexplained deaths” that were never meaningfully investigated by Qatari authorities; many were forced to return home without pay, and families who lost their sole breadwinner were denied compensation. While Qatar ultimately reformed its labor laws to allow migrant workers to change jobs without employer permission and established a higher minimum wage, the reforms came too late and were inadequately enforced for many workers to benefit.
Thirteen national football federations have supported the demand by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations for a remedy fund to compensate migrant workers and their families for wage abuses, injuries, and deaths. So have FIFA sponsors including AB InBev, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, and McDonald. The JFA has not.
Instead of turning their back on these abuses, Tashima and JFA should stand with migrant workers and their families by joining the call for a remedy fund, and support players, fans, and other national teams who wish to express solidarity with LGBT people, and who stand up for an end to human rights abuses in sports.