Boycotting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar would be a 'big mistake,' says Belgium manager Roberto Martínez

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez tells CNN that it would be "a big mistake" to boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, saying it would be an "easy escape" as opposed to really impacting change.

Posted: Mar 27, 2021 8:30 PM
Updated: Mar 27, 2021 8:30 PM

As players continue to protest the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Belgium manager Roberto Martínez says boycotting the tournament would be a "big mistake."

On Thursday, German players lined up before their qualifying game against Iceland with "human rights" spelled out across T-shirts, a day after the Norwegian team wore tops bearing the message "human rights on and off the pitch."

A Guardian report last month stated that more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the right to host the World Cup back in 2010, controversially chosen ahead of the likes of the United States and Australia.

"The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population," the Qatar government told the Guardian in response.

CNN has not independently verified the Guardian figures.

Several top division clubs in Norway have suggested that the national team should boycott the 2022 World Cup due to the conditions faced by migrant workers in Qatar, but Martínez, who has led Belgium to the top of the FIFA rankings, thinks that would be the wrong approach.

"It would be a big mistake," he told CNN Sport's Don Riddell. "I think it is the time to face that situation and I think boycotting the World Cup wouldn't be the solution.

"I think at the moment, we all know that the situation (with) the World Cup going to Qatar is a unique opportunity to bring the eyes of the world into any aspects that they are not right in society.

"We know that there's been big issues, but we know as well that because of the World Cup, the Qatari government is already putting things in place and will follow all the human rights institutions.

"The message is very clear: don't turn your back. Boycotting is the easy escape. What we need to do is make sure that we all participate and make it a successful World Cup. And then, from that point, make sure that change is there."

With European qualifying matches for the World Cup getting underway this week, Belgium defeated Wales 3-1 on Wednesday and next faces Czech Republic on Saturday and Belarus on Tuesday.

Of his players' protest before their 3-0 win against Iceland, Germany coach Joachim Löw told reporters: "The players have drawn everything on their shirts. It was supposed to be the first statement by us, by the team."

"We stand for human rights, no matter the location. Those are our values. Therefore, it was a very good and important statement."

In a statement to CNN regarding the protests by Norway and Germany, a spokesperson for Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy said: "We have always been transparent about the health and safety of workers on projects directly related to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

"Since construction began in 2014, there have been three work-related fatalities and 35 non-work-related deaths. The SC has investigated each case, learning lessons to avoid any repeat in the future. The SC has disclosed each incident through public statements and our Annual Workers' Welfare Progress Reports."

Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of Qatar's 2022 World Cup organizing committee, told CNN in late 2019 that he felt Qatar has been treated "unfairly" ahead of the tournament and "judged by the court of perception very early on."

In response to the protests, FIFA told CNN it would not take any disciplinary action, stressing that it "believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good."

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