Fiorentina have updated their preseason friendly schedule, and the most remarkable fixture is a tie against the Qatar national team that will take place on Wednesday, 3 August 2022, at the Untersberg-Arena in Grödig, Austria. While friendlies between club teams and national teams are rare in and of themselves—they always have a certain 1920s vibe to me—this one adds layers of uncertainty to the genre.
I’m talking, of course, about Qatar’s human rights record. There’s a 5300 word Wikipedia entry titled “2022 FIFA World Cup controversies,” which is never a good sign, and it covers the multitude of issues with the tiny nation hosting perhaps the globe’s largest sporting event.
The Kafala system of labor, which allows foreign workers into the country, has been described as essentially slavery by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other humanitarian organizations. This is a system that has seen over 6500 migrant workers die in Qatar since 2011, according to the Guardian last year, although only 37 have been officially linked to stadium construction, despite claims that the number is much, much higher. Most of those who don’t die are swept into a legal limbo requiring them to work extraordinary hours with no benefits and low pay.
Qatar doesn’t grant women anything approaching legal rights, forcing them to rely on male guardians for permission to “marry, travel, pursue higher education or make decisions about their own children,” according to the Guardian. Too, queer people face legal and social discrimination in the country: homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty, although there are no records of it being enforced; 3-7 years of prison seems to be the most common sentence, according to the ILGA’s 2019 report.
These are among the reasons that Watford supporters protested a friendly between their side and Qatar, leading to its cancellation 2 weeks ago. The Qatari federation noted that they had offers from numerous European club teams for friendlies. It’s now clear that Fiorentina was one of those teams, and the Maroons have accepted the offer.
The question here is why the Viola would have any interest in embroiling themselves in this. After the outcry among supporters and the club brass following a fan’s assault on club reporter Greta Beccaglia last season, you’d think that supporting a nation that discriminates against women would be antithetical to this organization. Let’s also remember that Florence is a famously pro-queer city throughout history and is one of the least-backwards cities in Italy in that respect.
With respect to the Qatari national team, it does not bring millions of supporters to the equation. It’s unlikely that Fiorentina will significantly grow its fan base or global footprint with this move; if anything, this sort of decision might do the opposite. The only benefit I can imagine is a financial one, as Qatar is a famously wealthy state and likely willing to pay an enormous sum to any club willing to give them a match.
While the upcoming season will see Fiorentina competing on three fronts and will thus require significant investment this summer, this club still has enough money from the sales of Federico Chiesa and Dušan Vlahović to spend a bit more, and the coming fees for Bartłomiej Drągowski and possibly Nikola Milenković should add further funds.
Taking money from such a problematic source that an English Championship team wanted no part of it is, at best, uncomfortable and undignified. At worst, it’s ignorant, hypocritical, and grasping, or some combination of all three. That spectrum is not one I want the club I love to be a part of, and I’d like to know who thought this was a good idea and why. Because it really, really isn’t.