Ahead of the FIFA World Cup which is taking place in Qatar next month, Denmark and kit manufacturers Hummel have unveiled a trio of ‘toned down’ kits to protest the violation of the human rights of immigrant labour in the country.
There is no doubt that this issue is of genuine importance and it is certainly a worthy cause to embrace, however, it raises questions about the Danish Football Association's (DBU) recent history. Namely, why it didn't express similar protest kits when Denmark happily played in the Russian World Cup in 2018? And why is it only now, when faced with the prospect of playing in Qatar, that Denmark suddenly finds its apparent humanitarian verve?
Let’s briefly go back to 2018.
Putin’s Russia, which received widespread praise from European countries for its performance as a host, was violating the human rights of millions of people across the Russian Federation on a daily basis. Furthermore, at the time, it had illegally annexed part of Ukraine and had begun a proxy war in the Donbas, while partaking in genocide in Syria. There was no statement from the DBU on any of these issues, however.
The manufacturers stated: ‘At Hummel, we believe that sport should bring people together … when it doesn’t, we are eager to speak up and make a statement … that's why the new Denmark jerseys for the upcoming World Cup have been designed as a protest against Qatar and its human rights record’.
So why didn’t the DBU and Hummel want to make a similar statement about the hundreds of LGBT people who have been detained, tortured, disappeared and executed in the Russian Federation? Why wasn’t there some special kit designed for these people?
In Syria, the very same year that Russia hosted the World Cup, it took part in a deadly offensive in Idlib alongside the Assad regime that killed 70,000 people in a single month. Hundreds died and thousands more were injured as the Russian air force targeted schools, hospitals and neighbourhoods for annihilation with deliberate malice.
Why no great humanitarian appeal from the Danes who are now seemingly so affected by the human rights situation in Qatar? Were the human rights of these people, violated so brutally by Russia, somehow less worthy of protest?
When it comes to official bodies like FIFA, that said nothing about human rights violations in Russia and have kept the same line about Qatar, at least there is an abhorrent consistency. FIFA, as a kleptocratic body that cares almost solely about self-enrichment, couldn’t care less about human rights in any country and thus barely even pays lip service to such issues, as it hides behind “political neutrality”.
But countries such as Denmark are damned by their craven selectivity and hypocrisy. This is a country where, under the racist ‘zero asylum seekers’ policy, the alleged social democratic government has deported Syrians under the absurd proclamation that Assad’s Russian-controlled rump state is safe for return. This is despite the grim documentation of the fate that awaits deported refugees – one of torture, indefinite detention, enforced disappearances, rape and murder at the hands of Assad.
The Danish government and state, the same one that funds the DBU and supports the posturing over Qatar, knows all of this. One can thus hardly be called a cynic for questioning the motivations of Danish officialdom on questions of human rights in Qatar.
It is not just Denmark either, a whole host of footballing figures and national associations have decided to suddenly find a humanitarian voice about the situation in Qatar.
Earlier this year the Norwegian Football Association questioned whether Qatar was fit to host the World Cup due to human rights issues. Yet, Norway’s own star player Erling Haaland, plays for Manchester City which is owned by the ruling autocratic family of Abu Dhabi in the UAE, where 100,000 people remain stateless and are treated like sub-humans. They are used for near-slave labour, denied access to health, proper regulated jobs and are essentially imprisoned in the statelet.
Shouldn’t Norway then leave Haaland – who is on the payroll of a brutal autocratic state – out of the national team?
Of course, Norway would never do that. And, if countries like Denmark and corporations like Hummel truly cared about human rights, they’d withdraw from the tournament. But instead, Denmark and Hummel will protest all the way to Doha, encouraging fans to take part by buying their kits for €80.
The Danish jerseys also raise another red flag on the matter of manufacturing. After all, 30% of Hummel’s products are manufactured in China, a country which bases its hyper-exploitative economic model on denying workers basic human rights, including child labour. Not to mention the forced labour it extracts from the Uyghur people.
The notion that Denmark or Hummel care about workers’ rights is perverse.
The point is never that human rights violations shouldn’t be emphasised. However, unless this is done comprehensively and without selectivity, such gestures are simply at best, a waste of time, and at worst, a cynical marketing ploy devised to whitewash the very issues that it claims to address.
Sam Hamad is a writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow focusing on totalitarian ideologies.
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