Women deserve better than the nonsense from a FIFA sponsor

12 June 2018 Comments 0

My word, FIFA picks them, don’t they?

I’m talking about sponsors. Putting aside that Qatar Airways is there on a ‘wink and a nod’ as part of ensuring FIFA meets its revenue targets because of their dodgy decisions back in 2010, what about this?

The CEO of Qatar Airways, Akber Al Baker, told a media conference in Sydney at an IATA convention that women couldn’t possibly lead an airline. And especially not his.

Now, let me see. Women have led countries. They discover cures to diseases. They’ve flown to the moon and back. They play sport really well. They’ve shown themselves willing to stand-up to all that’s bad in football. But, according to him, they can’t possibly run an airline.

It’s not much use asking which century and which planet he’s from because, well, it’s Qatar. You know, the next World Cup hosts but one. The one where – apparently, despite more than half of the voters being indicted, banned or suspended since – there is ‘absolutely nothing to see here’ when it comes to how they won the vote. At least according to FIFA.

So, hello, FIFA – how do you feel about this? How does your first woman CEO, Fatma Samoura, feel about this?

Half the world’s population is female. The growth in the game in terms of participation comes from women and girls. We already know that the game treats women shabbily and unfairly considering the prize money on offer at the Women’s World Cup compared with the men’s; and the enormous gender pay gap in the game.

In fact, on that point, I had the pleasure of speaking with, and hearing from, the great Hope Solo last week at a conference I threw together in London. Her record as a goalkeeper domestically and internationally for the mighty US Women’s National Team (USWNT) is formidable. Hope made the point that she was essentially ostracised from the sport and the male officialdom who runs it because she dared to lead the charge on questioning the status quo over the gender pay gap in the US. In 2015, when the USWNT won the World Cup, they brought in more money to the game in the US than the men’s team but were still paid significantly lower than the men.

She says her international was more or less finished at that point, because she raised uncomfortable questions.

It’s all too familiar, isn’t it? Speak out, get punished.

Meanwhile, back to FIFA’s sponsor Qatar Airways …  here we have a major sponsor of the sport, where the eyes of all sporting fans will be locked for the next five weeks, sprouting utter nonsense. And getting away with it as far as FIFA is concerned.

It’s not as if Qatar Airways form on this issue isn’t known. Back in 2015, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) noted just how profoundly anti-women the airline is, subjecting the staff to appalling restrictions.

It was only after the ILO reported that Qatar Airways improved some of its policies towards female staff, which had included sacking female staff who became pregnant, and banning them from getting married. In other words, until three years ago, Mr Al-Baker had more say on the family planning of a staff member than did the staff member and her spouse.

Qatar Airways staff have also talked of being physically confined to Qatar Airways premises for 12 hours prior to a flight, with windows and fire escapes sealed to prevent them leaving, and being banned from staying at unapproved accommodation. Staff are subject to surveillance – something which Qatar is known to do in other circumstances also – including of social media activity, including when off-duty.

In another interview on this point, after 35 pilots resigned in 2013 because of the restrictions, Mr Al-Baker said “The reason why I know everything happening in the company is that I’m deeply involved in the smooth running of the company. I’m simply everywhere, talking to everyone, listening to them.”

Mr Al-Baker also says raising these issues is simply part of a campaign against them that was linked to criticism – and jealousy – over Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

My point is this. It’s bad enough that we have to endure the soft diplomacy that is going to flow from the World Cup being held in Russia over the coming weeks; where Vladimir Putin will seek to reinvent himself as warm and cuddly, and some sort of good guy.

Who made the decision to go to Russia and Qatar? FIFA. So the very least FIFA could do is show some leadership. For example:

Mr Al Baker, what you say is unacceptable in this day and age and we do not accept this by any measure,’ or words to that effect.

Just as FIFA’s sponsors – in an ideal world – should push back at FIFA for its lack of transparency, accountability and business integrity, so should FIFA do the same towards its sponsors.

I would like to see FIFA stand-up for something good. For once. For the growing proportion of girls and women who play the game, and the many billions of football fans who are also women and who will no doubt be watching the greatest show on earth over the coming weeks.

Now wouldn’t that be something.