The first international break after an incredible summer of football certainly hasn't lacked for stories, they just aren't the type to make you feel warm and fuzzy.
In case you fell asleep during the past week (and to be honest no one would blame you) we had England players getting predictably racially abused away in Hungary, although any British self-righteousness was rightly put in its place by Gareth Southgate pointing out the issues within England itself.
Premier League clubs decided not to send their players to South American qualifiers due to those countries involved being on travel red lists but then a bunch of them went anyway. The result was a scene equal parts hilarious, bizarre and inept as the match between Brazil and Argentina was halted minutes after kick-off by Brazilian health officials, who ran onto the pitch demanding four Argentine players isolate immediately.
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And still this prolonged international break is still not finished, with matches across the next two days.
To be clear. England captain Harry Kane will play away in Poland on Wednesday night. Then he will fly back and play for Tottenham Hotspur in the 12:30 kick-off on Saturday. The likes of Luke Shaw, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Jesse Lingard, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish will all play at 15:00. Jude Bellingham will presumably be back in action for Borussia Dortmund half an hour earlier.
Of course this does happen throughout the season with European football. But the whole point of international football is that it’s usually only two games and it doesn’t cause too much disruption to players’ fitness. If the last game was on Saturday or Sunday a player could be back with their club by Tuesday or Wednesday and have a few days of rest before the weekend's action.
Harry Kane of England celebrates with Bukayo Saka and Jesse Lingard
Image credit: Getty Images
FIFA and the various continental bodies had to do something because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its disruption to the calendar. But cramming in as many games as possible was not the sensible (or correct) decision. As a result we’ve already seen players picking up knocks here or there, and that is going to continue with the October and November breaks as the miles pile up for players who have had no time to breathe since football came out of lockdown.
Now we may be moving to a world where there is a World Cup once every two years, but with fewer international breaks, one or two a year rather than five. The proposal, headed by Arsene Wenger, has garnered a lot of criticism for being a cash grab that will further dilute the sport. But at least players' bodies won't be constantly on the verge of breaking down.
- Finland captain Sparv urges players to put pressure on FIFA over Qatar World Cup and human rights
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- Spurs set to fine Lo Celso and Romero after pair involved in Brazil vs Argentina suspension
Qatar under scrutiny again
The chance to be at a World Cup, particularly for smaller nations, is a truly unmatched experience. And even the light at the end of the tunnel of this interminable international break has lost its lustre somewhat given the next World Cup is of course to be played in Qatar.
Again, in case you missed it, Qatar has a less than stellar record on human rights. Here is Amnesty’s overview on the country’s record. And here are two articles published by the organisation this year. One is a letter to FIFA imploring action on workers’ rights. And another is a damning statement on Qatar’s failure to investigate the deaths of migrant workers.
This is not the first case of sportswashing and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s also not in the least bit surprising to see the footballing world be so silent. Last March during qualifiers, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and a few others protested against conditions for workers in the country, with the Norwegians discussing a potential boycott of the tournament, but that’s largely been it.
Which is why it was so refreshing to see Finland captain Tim Sparv release a long and detailed piece on The Players’ Tribune on Monday outlining his issue with the World Cup being held in Qatar and the various issues people in the country are facing.
You can read the full article here but these are some quotes that really stood out.
- “I know I’m writing this article many years too late. I’m still thinking, Ah! Could we not have addressed this five years ago? Maybe we could have changed some of the decisions that were taken, and improved the conditions for the migrant workers. Maybe we could even have saved lives. F***. We woke up too late. I woke up too late."
- “So I would encourage other players to be brave. Qatar isn’t even a political topic, it’s a humanitarian one. If nothing else, just highlight it. Bring it to people’s attention. Saying something is so much better than saying nothing.”
Like it or not, this is something that needs to be talked about. FIFA's inaction on racism, human rights and concerns over player welfare are all areas for which they should be held accountable as the gatekeepers of the game.
There is a responsibility to look after player welfare. Trying to fit in so many games into a short period of time is only going to result in more injuries. That’s not fair on anyone. Meanwhile, more positive tests mean the longer this virus will dominate everyone’s lives and the wisdom of trying to continue in something approaching a normal manner at present surely has to be questioned.
And it goes without saying (but stunningly needs to be reiterated because not enough is happening) that more has to be done to tackle the horrendous racism and other forms of discrimination that still exist within the sport. Pathetic little fines are not enough. Stadium bans and docked points are the only way forward otherwise we’ll keep continuing this vicious cycle, as Ian Wright expressed so well here:
And finally. It is not too late to do something about Qatar. So far the approach has been the bare minimum, if that. There are around 15 months to go, it is not too late. Put pressure on Qatar both before and after the tournament to improve the life of their citizens. All of them.
Until something changes FIFA cannot sit there with good conscience and tell fans of the global game that they are acting as a bastion for all that is good about it.
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