Tim Sparv on conditions in Qatar ahead of the World Cup: ‘I have seen progress, but I am still critical’

He retired at the end of last year, and as a 35-year-old former Finnish captain Tim Sparv (84 international caps) is now on his way to training. While remaining mobilized on a topic he is publicly engaged in, such as his testimony last September, on the page The Players’ Tribune: the rights of foreign workers in Qatar.

Supporter of a “player activism” in societal issues, the former defensive midfielder has just spent three days in Doha, after asking FIFPRO (the world union of professional players) to complete his deliberations. He returned to Finland on Tuesday to immerse himself in another reality: he lent his apartment in Vaasa (in the western part of the country) to Ukrainian refugees – a mother and her two children – who fled the war and the Russian invasion. “They will be there for a whilethinks Sparrow, who today lives with his own mother. We bought equipment for the kids and they can play football. »

“Why did you want to come to Qatar to discuss the rights of foreign workers?
As you know, I’ve been thinking about this topic for some time. When I was captain of my committee, I was asked about the situation here. I did not have everything in hand, and to be honest it made me curious. I contacted FIFPRO and they invited me to come. I had already had discussions on the topic at video conferencing with people on site, but it is different when one is physically present. I wanted to see the situation with my own eyes and sit with people in the same room: workers, community leaders, international unions, labor inspectors, top committees (World Cup Organizing Committee)… To see the improvements that have been made and the obstacles that some workers still face. In a way, we are all fighting for the same thing: we want to improve their living conditions in this country.

“It would be to go far to say that a World Cup held here is a positive thing”

This is not your first stay in the emirate …
No, I had already come with the Finnish selection for a winter training camp (in January 2019). We had started talking about this topic between us, we thought this place was not compatible with our values (one of his teammates, Riku Riski, had refused to accompany the national team to this camp for ethical reasons). We were almost all of the same opinion. And afterwards we went to Spain on our winter camp.

How do you see the situation today?
When Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup (in December 2010), no one was interested in the fate of foreign workers. The situation was catastrophic. But in two to three years, we see that it is improving at certain points. The Kafala system has been officially abolished, a minimum wage has been introduced, it is easier to change jobs … And if we compare the situation in Qatar with the situation in other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, she is better here.

But there are still two main concerns in my opinion. The first is the situation of domestic workers. I have received terrible testimonies about this, regarding cases of child abuse and sexual abuse. And when these women go to the police, no one believes what they say … The other concern is what will happen after the World Cup is over. Will Qatar always seek to improve things or go back? What will be the legacy? We would like a large workers’ house to be built here. A place where they could get training, help and support when, for example, they have a salary payment problem … Because today they still do not really know where to go when they have a concern.

Has your opinion changed?
You must try to be constantly open. So yes, my opinion has changed a bit compared to half a year ago. It is not black or white. But it would be far to say that a World Cup held here is a positive thing. It is not when you think about what happened before, all the lives lost, the bad human rights history … I have also seen the progress that has been made, but I remain critical of this, which still needs to be done.

“The direction the sport is taking is not good. Athletes are just made to go where other people have asked them to go”

What do you think about the scattered calls for a boycott of this World Cup?
I’m not a fan of the boycott – it’s the former player who speaks – and now I still think it’s a little too late … But players have the privilege of a certain status in society: young people listen to us, they are curious about to know what we think. Almost every day we have a microphone or a camera in front of us and it is an opportunity to talk about something other than the simple fact of having lost or won a match. Athletes can get into very difficult situations: there were Winter Olympics in China (In february)Formula 1 Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia (March 27), we have the World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year … The direction that the sport is taking is not good. Athletes are just forced to go where other people have asked them to go.

Eight months before the World Cup, is it still important to maintain these themes in the public debate?
Yes, without a doubt. Every day provides an opportunity to make an impact. We recently saw Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane (respectively coach and captain of the English team) go into the game about it. It is about the situation in Qatar, but also about the future. There is never a bad time to talk about human rights or raise awareness about them. I’m curious to see how players, teams and national leagues will spend this period. I would be disappointed to hear them say they’re just here to play football. That would be the worst thing for me. We need to have bigger goals than that. »

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