Yellow card for Qatar from Christians in Europe


European Union


During the match between the USA and Wales in Qatar, last Monday. Photo AFP, Adrian Dennis

Are you watching or not? That Yes or No-question is pointed to many Christian leaders in Europe. The World Cup in Qatar is a controversial event for people who want to live ethically.

This conscience dilemma seems mainly an issue for Western Europeans. In the past week, articles about this appeared mainly there. For Eastern Europeans, this seems not to be so much of a problem. Or, perhaps, football is not that important to them.

“The world as a guest of crooks”, the German Catholic weekly Die Tagespost writes in a headline at the front page. "The World Cup host country and its sin record."

The French magazine Le Pélerin speaks about the "World Cup of all scandals". In the meantime, however, the magazine thinks it is "futile" to boycott the event since it will be going on anyway.


The picture is that 6,000 migrant workers have died during the preparations for the World Cup. The workers were in the country to build the stadium and other facilities.

Demonstration this week in Berlin, Germany. Photo AFP, John Macdougall

Qatar is no country with the usual Western freedoms. The organisation Open Doors has made clear that Christians do not enjoy the freedom of religion there. The land rose on the index from position 29 to position 18. Churches are only for immigrants, tells the Dutch Open Doors director Martin Dees in Reformatorisch Dagblad. It is forbidden to show a cross or another symbol on the outside.

The country still has capital punishment for people who convert from Islam to Christianity. And the small number of indigenous Qatari believers "have no official permission to meet or practice". Anastasia Hartman, the Middle East spokesperson of Open Doors, says to Evangelical Focus.

Because of all this, Open Doors has developed a special calendar for the World Cup. "Pray when they play", it is called.

Price too high

"For me, this is a World Cup in the wrong place and at the wrong time," wrote the former Council Chairman of the German Protestant Church (EKD), Nikolaus Schneider, quoted by Pro. "I don't want to ignore that Qatar is trampling on the rights of women and homosexuals." Schneider will not watch the games on television.

The match between Saudi Arabia and Argentina on Tuesday. Photo AFP, Kirill Kudryatsev

Gert-Jan Segers, Dutch Member of Parliament and leader of the Christian Union, says he "loves football". He is a fan of several clubs, but he won't be watching the World Cup in Qatar, he says in the Nederlands Dagblad. "The price paid for this so-called football party is far too high. That already started in 2010 with the allocation. Qatar bought the World Cup to polish its own image. It has since become apparent that more than 6,000 victims have fallen during the construction of the stadiums and infrastructure."

By watching a match, in a way, you participate, Segers says. "Allowing this World Cup to continue as usual suggests that the life of a migrant worker who died in Qatar is less valuable." He says he is disappointed that the Dutch government still has the plan to send a delegation.

Nazi era

The sports commissioner of the German Protestant Church (EKD), Thorsten Latzel, compares the issue with the Nazi period. In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Nazi Germany. "Since then, we know what "sportswashing" means. This is an effort of a country to present itself positively to the outer world with a sports event, to cover the ethical issues in their own country."

The Roman Catholics in Germany have a "sports bishop" too: Stefan Oster of Passau. According to Catholic News Agency, he does not want to block someone's enjoyment of the championship. "Enjoyment of sports, including worldwide mega-events, has its own right, even if it may be clouded by the extreme commercialisation of soccer in particular. But it is nevertheless right to take a critical look at Qatar's political and social conditions."

The Catholic sports community in Austria says that a World Cup championship in a totalitarian state is just for once. "In the future, global events such as the Olympic Games or world championships may no longer be awarded to countries governed in a totalitarian manner, disregard human rights or are serious polluters. Unless they promise legally binding improvements with concrete timetables", the chairmen Pepi Frank and Sepp Eppensteiner say, according to Katholisch.at.

A stadium full of fans. Photo AFP, Adrian Dennis

The French Famille Chretienne portrays a Protestant pastor and a Catholic bishop who share the love for sports. Still, both will be boycotting the Qatar championship. Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard says the choice for Qatar is "a shame, really."


The Dutch pastor A. C. Uitslag thinks that Westerners have to look at another side as well, he says to Cvandaag. "Think of prostitution. At a World Cup in Europe, this 'sector' had made a considerable turnover, with all the excesses of women trafficking and exploitation added. In Qatar, this is out of the question. Why human rights violations?"



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