As the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar this week, Japan Football Association (JFA) president Kohzo Tashima told journalists it was “unfortunate that issues other than football are being discussed at this time”. Echoing FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s comments about “focusing on football” rather than human rights issues, Tashima responded to questions about how he was responding to protests by European teams – including France, Germany and England – against lesbian and gay discrimination See through the Government of Qatar , Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people.
“As a federation, we obviously want to steer the issues of discrimination and human rights in a better direction, but we think now is the time to focus on football,” Tashima said.
What is really “unfavorable” is that Tashima’s comments contradict the JFA’s promise of “social and international contribution.” They effectively exonerate the Qatari authorities of gross abuses, including arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of LGBT people in detention, laws criminalizing same-sex relationships, and widespread labor abuse of migrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal and India who toiled in the scorching heat for extremely low wages to build and deliver $220 billion worth of World Cup infrastructure.
Thousands were injured or died from “unexplained deaths” that have never been meaningfully investigated by Qatari authorities; Many were forced to return home without pay, and families who lost their only breadwinner were denied compensation. While Qatar eventually reformed its labor laws to allow migrant workers to change jobs without employer permission and introduced a higher minimum wage, the reforms came too late and were poorly enforced for many workers to benefit.
Thirteen national football federations have backed Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups’ call for a relief fund to compensate migrant workers and their families for wage abuse, injuries and deaths. So do FIFA sponsors like AB InBev, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald. The JFA does not have that.
Rather than turn their backs on these abuses, Tashima and JFA should stand by migrant workers and their families by joining the call for a relief fund and supporting players, fans and other national teams who want to express their solidarity with LGBT people and who are seeding Stand up for an end to human rights abuses in sport.