Sweden gives up Qatar tour, calling for respect for human rights

Nordic countries are the most critical of the 2022 World Cup over the treatment of stadium construction workers
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AFP/MARWAN NAAMANI  -   Foreign workers at the construction site of the Al-Wakrah football stadium, one of the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

The Swedish Football Association has suspended its annual winter tour during the league's break. This year it was to be held in Qatar, but the Football Federation called off the event a day after announcing it. The reason was pressure from clubs over the human rights controversy in the country that will host the next World Cup in 2022.

Like other Nordic federations, the Swedish federation organises every year, during the winter break, a tour with players only from teams in Scandinavian leagues to try out new players, which the clubs are not obliged to give out, as these are not official FIFA dates.

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AFP/KARIM JAAFAR - Workers at the construction site of the Al-Wakrah Stadium on the outskirts of the Qatari capital Doha.
Influencing human rights

The federation's general secretary, Håkan Sjöstrand, presented the training camp as a way to take advantage of the good sporting opportunities and influence the human rights issue in Qatar. The issue has been hotly debated in international football in recent months to the point of calling into question the RFEF's Spanish super cups in Saudi Arabia, which it will resume in 2022.

The Swedish Professional Clubs Association, which groups the 32 teams in the first and second divisions, expressed its opposition to the idea and described it as "stupidity" in the words of Robert Falck, president of AIK, one of the most powerful clubs.

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Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency/via REUTERS - Swedish Football Association general secretary Hakan Sjostrand (L) and Sweden national coach Janne Andersson in this June 26, 2019 file photo.

The head of the association, Jens T. Andersson, stressed that the idea was "stupid". Andersson stressed that it was one thing for the World Cup in Qatar, organised by FIFA, and another for the federation to tour on its own in a country where 6,500 foreign workers have died in stadium construction, according to a report by several NGOs in recent months. After a meeting between the federation and the clubs, the decision was changed and the tour was suspended.

 Smart decision

"It is obvious that there is a unanimous opinion among the clubs not to have a training camp in Qatar. As everything is based on an understanding with them, we will look for other alternatives. What is clear is that the January tour will not be in Qatar," Sjöstrand said in a statement.

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AFP/ARIM JAAFAR - Workers at the construction site of the Al-Wakrah Stadium, a World Cup venue.

Andersson called the decision "smart" and ended up lining up Swedish football against the camp.

The issue of Qatar and human rights was very present at the last EURO. Several teams held symbolic protests before the matches and some stadiums chanted the song "Never mind slavery", which was voiced by Norwegian comedian Rasmus Wold.

In fact, this reality has been particularly prominent in Norway, where several clubs opposed the World Cup outright. The possible boycott was discussed within the Federation, but the proposal was finally discarded.