LONERGAN | World Cup Blackout: Denmark to Shine a Light on the Dark Side of the Upcoming World Cup

Denmark’s understated World Cup jersey collection is the latest form of protest against the controversial upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar. As the excitement of soccer’s biggest tournament begins, the move, whether motivated by moral outrage or profit, is an important reminder of the human rights abuses committed by the Qatari government.

Hummel, Denmark’s kit manufacturers, released three monochrome jerseys Sept. 28 as a form of protest against the 2022 World Cup host nation, Qatar. 

Qatar and its World Cup bid have faced serious backlash as the tournament approaches, and many have questioned the legitimacy of the nation’s initial bid, alleging vote-buying and bribery. Fifteen of the 22 FIFA executive committee members who selected Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host 12 years ago have since faced criminal charges or been banned by FIFA’s governing body, including former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Many regard the omission of more suitable nations such as the United States, Australia and South Korea as suspicious. 

However, the most troubling controversy has been the mistreatment of the 30,000 migrant workers who were integral to Qatar’s construction of new stadiums, hotels and even cities. 

Human rights groups have repeatedly cited concerns about the exploitation and high death toll of migrant workers, with Amnesty International labeling the tournament the “World Cup of shame.” In 2016, Amnesty International accused Qatari companies of using forced labor, subjecting workers to squalid living conditions, withholding wages and confiscating passports. 

The Guardian reported in 2021 that 6,500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died since Qatar won its World Cup bid. The Qatari government has denied this number, claiming that there were only 37 deaths — only three of which considered work-related — between 2014 and 2020. However, the International Labour Organization believes this is an understatement as Qatar does not count deaths that could have been related to heatstroke, a condition commonly resulting from intense labor at high temperatures.

Denmark has been one of the most outspoken countries among those participating in the tournament this winter, with numerous fans raising concerns about sending teams and fans to Qatar.

“We do not believe that we, as a democratic nation striving to live up to global human rights, can benefit from having some of the country’s most prominent sporting players participate in the finals and blue-stamp a dictatorship like Qatar,” a national petition reads. 

To raise awareness about these controversies, Hummel, a Danish-owned brand, toned down its logo on Denmark’s kit, stating that it didn’t want to be associated with a tournament held in Qatar. It also designed an all-black kit to mark the death of migrant workers and confirmed that it will donate 1% of its total online revenue for the rest of the year to Amnesty International.

While these actions are a start, Hummel will still profit from the sale of jerseys and, albeit indirectly, from the abuses of the Qatari government. The company will potentially pocket even more from sales because of the jersey’s dissenting design, which not only sends a message but conveniently looks magnificently suave. 

Christian Stadil, the owner of Hummel, told The Athletic that his company is trying to use the opportunity to spread awareness about the situation while still navigating the fine line between sending a message and producing a product for the public. 

“We have a window to communicate,” Stadil told The Athletic. “So rather than flying our logo, and the bright colors of the flag we wanted to do something a little different. Not to take away from the football, but to make people stop for a few seconds, a few minutes, to contemplate the whole process of holding the World Cup in Qatar.”

While it remains to be seen whether the dark horse Denmark will take its competition by storm in Qatar, it is evident that its kits have already sent waves through the world of football and are continuing a conversation that must not be drowned out once the tournament begins. 

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