Even 40 years ago, German kickers were already playing in Argentina under a military dictatorship that was responsible for the deaths of 30,000 opponents. And the forthcoming World Cup in Russia certainly raises plenty of human rights concerns. Players are expected to not comment on the political situation. Suddenly, football is supposedly apolitical again.
What's more, the World Cup in Qatar is coming up in 2022, a tournament that involves much more far-reaching human rights violations, which have repeatedly been documented by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Amnesty speaks of a "World Cup of shame". Hundreds of thousands of labour migrants employed at the World Cup construction sites and elsewhere to prepare and execute the event are being systematically exploited. Hundreds have already fallen victim to the catastrophic working conditions.
For Qatar, hosting this World Cup is an important source of pride, as are its investments in top European clubs such as Paris St. Germain. FC Bayern travels to a training camp in Qatar every year, and Qatar Airways has even become one of its major sponsors. Although the country's human rights violations are well-known, the dire conditions are systematically ignored. The players are largely sworn to confidentiality.
While Ozil and Gundogan have reaped outrage for their political naivety, the clubs of the English Premier League are funded by Russian oligarchs, autocratic Middle Eastern rulers (Manchester City) or Trump supporters (FC Arsenal). Since massive cases of corruption were uncovered in FIFA and former president Sepp Blatter resigned, the new chairman, Gianni Infantino, has yet to fully investigate the corruption involving various World Cup awards, and FIFA tried to stop the publication of the so-called "Garcia" report, which was meant to shed some light on the matter in 2014.
Anyone who is really interested in ensuring that the global football business doesn't violate human rights should rightly criticise Ozil's and Gundogan's appearance with Erdogan. But the clubs and their fans should then not ignore the countless other human rights problems.
There have been plenty of opportunities to take action: for example, the last friendly match on 8 June against Saudi Arabia, a country where there is no freedom of the press, where minors are executed for taking part in demonstrations, and where, despite the liberal economic course now launched by the new crown prince, dissidents are mercilessly persecuted. Just recently, a number of women's rights activists were arrested, including the young Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been advocating for moderate reforms for years.
For all the German football fans who were really concerned about the human rights issues at stake when Ozil and Gundogan met with Erdogan, the match would have provided the perfect opportunity to protest loudly, instead of continuing to heckle the German national players for a meeting that they admitted was a mistake. For all the others, we can only say: Stop whistling!
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor