It was a very timely FIFA World Cup 2022 special this week on the Bulletin.
You might be interested to know that professional soccer players in Australia are represented by a union: the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).
Australia’s Socceroos qualified for this year’s FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar. Arguably, no soccer tournament involving Australia has been so marred with controversy.
The union’s inception was in 1993, and since then they’ve helped lead professional soccer in Australia from a sport on the margins, to the international stage multiple times.
They’ve also been trailblazers in pay equity for women in the sport; the Matildas famously entering into a full-fledged industrial dispute in 2015, demanding among other things that women be paid the same as their male counterparts.
As the date of the big event drew closer, concerns surrounding the host nation’s human rights record started to make news.
Since Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup, over 6500 migrant workers – human beings held in indentured labour – have died.
These workers came primarily from South Asia – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – to build better lives for themselves and the families that they left behind.
As a condition of their job, their documents confiscated and they are not free to leave their employer for another.
There is no freedom of association: migrant workers are barred from joining a union or unionising. No work health and safety standards are enforced, conditions are incredibly hazardous, with workers being made to work in searing heat with little protection. Workers often remain unpaid (or severely underpaid) and have no choice but to reside in dangerously inadequate accommodation.
As well as their record on migrant workers’ rights, it is also still a criminal act to engage in same sex relationships in Qatar.
With those things in mind, Professional Footballers Australia sought to make their stance on the issues very clear.
PFA President and Socceroo Alex Wilkinson tells us, “[The Socceroo players] have spent a lot of time in Qatar over the last two years… learning, and listening to organisations like FIFA and FIFPRO, and most importantly they listened to the workers themselves.”
The video is powerful, not least of all because the Socceroos have a recognisable public profile.
“Us as footballers, whether we like it or not, have a certain platform that people listen to. It’s about using that platform to educate and advocate for change,” Alex said.
The video is also strikingly balanced. Unlike a lot of the coverage surrounding the host nation Qatar – which is steeped in Orientalism and outdated notions about Arabic countries – the video acknowledges how far the nation has come, but calls for it to implement these positive changes more widely and consistently.
Francis quips that when we picture soccer players, we picture the Cristiano Ronaldos. Figures who are notoriously highly paid. What they don’t necessarily realise, is that soccer players in Australia have struggled and won for pay increases and improvement of conditions for decades. The PFA proudly aligns themselves with workers, as workers.
This is the other profoundly moving element to the video: the sense that these working people – the Socceroos – cannot handle, in good conscience, playing on turf drenched in the blood of fellow workers.
The players have the elevated platform of having public profiles as sportspeople, in a world that idolises sport. But with the sensibilities of working Australians.
Instead of forgetting the universal struggle of workers, the Socceroos have used their platform brilliantly to broadcast the ongoing battle for workers’ rights, across industries and across the world.
Join us as we delve behind the headlines and see what really matters for young workers.
P.S. If you’re hanging around Melbourne this Sunday 27 November, head on down to Cranbourne East at 11am to watch the Solidarity Cup supported by the Migrant Workers Centre. Find out more details and RSVP.