As I often do, I had resolved to more-closely follow the most-recent international break through rut un wiess-tinted glasses than I have in the past. I fall steadfastly into the “club over country” contingent of football fanaticism, but also trend toward “some football” over “no football” when it comes right down to it.
And again I, as I always do, failed to follow through.
Jonas Hector being again called into the German national team naturally had me more-interested than usual, as it combined my favorite things from both parts of the football world. To that end, I did intently watch the friendly against Australia and even put together the beginning of a piece, which never saw completion.
Among the many other EffZeh on active national-team duty during the international break were Miso Brecko and Dominic Maroh. Brecko was a starter for Slovenia in their 6:0 romp over San Marino last Friday in a qualifier for the European Championships, while Maroh watched from the bench.
Three days later, both traveled with their squad to Qatar for a friendly (which they’d lose 1:0). Both our guys played in that match, though the sporting competition is not at all why I’ve opted to write about Maroh here.
Qatar is naturally of interest due it having been tabbed as host of the 2022 World Cup and all the negative news that has since followed, covering such unsavory topics as FIFA corruption and slave labor in deadly working conditions.
Slovenia travelling to Qatar for a friendly, though, did not draw me in for the football, curiously enough. Rather, the match provided a somewhat-unexpected glimpse at how football there might look to a participating athlete, largely thanks to Maroh sharing his views upon his return to Köln, which are related by Michael Krämer’s in his “In Qatar, Dominic Maroh lost his desire for football” at Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
Count the central defender among the many who’ve followed those aforementioned news items from Qatar with interest. It’s one thing for any of us to be outraged while reading about the way stadiums are being built in Qatar. It’s not difficult to imagine how those feelings might be compounded by actually seeing some of the workers first-hand.
“We were waiting at a stoplight when they drove by us. For me, it was shocking to see. There were no local workers,” explained Maroh of how he was removed from being focused on football into looking at events from more of a human-interest standpoint. “They were in their construction work clothing, bent over the seats, and even had towels arranged to help keep them from breathing in sand.”
Of course, just seeing laborers wouldn’t mean too much were it not for the reports of labor abuse that would have employers brought up on charges in many nations and of working conditions that have led to several deaths.
Maroh admits that he can’t really know the full story behind what he saw, but even from just spending a brief amount of time taking in the general atmosphere around Doha, where the match was played, Maroh was instantly left with a sense of unease about the entire situation
“I was not there long, but we traveled around a little bit for half a day and could feel the atmosphere,” said Maroh. ” I am not familiar with the background and, as a footballer, can not judge things with certainty, but I spontaneously found myself wondering, ‘How could you host a World Cup there?’ That was my first thought.”
Controversy is not rare in football. There are issues everywhere, with Germany being no exception. Yet, even with some of the recent episodes of fan-violence, it is rare to hear a player moved to question the wisdom of contests being held in a certain location.
I held my own prejudices about soccer in Europe before I landed in Germany for the first time. I remember thinking that the matches were overwhelmed with hooligans and violence. When a friend decided I would attend a match at Westfalenstadion with him, I was admittedly nervous.
Actually, forget “nervous.” I was actually a bit scared, despite being generally tall and broad, even in my collegiate years.
As often happens when prejudices are confronted with actual experience, I came to the conclusion that everything I’d ever learned about European soccer was completely wrong. The fact is, the sport only made its way into my perception when there were breakouts of violence, while the actual incidence of it was and is exceedingly rare.
Maroh’s own preformed notions of Qatar as a future World Cup host could just as easily have been refuted by his experience there.
They simple weren’t.
“You follow in the media that supposedly workers from foreign countries are working there for a pittance. When you then hear that people have died at the construction sites while working under inhumane conditions or do not receive the money they were promised,” continued Maroh. “I am completely unable to imagine how anyone could have fun there as a fan.”
In the years before last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, there was plenty of concern about the money being sunk into preparing to host the event in the face of other domestic issues. Russia’s human-rights record was widely called into question in the lead-up to the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Certainly Maroh is aware that both happened with fans travelling and enjoying both.
But Qatar does seem to raise the bar on social concerns, and Maroh having been there to get a brief feel for it and returning with a negative impression reflects poorly in many ways.
We can assume that with the money involved and the fact that the tournament’s dates had to be shifted to winter based on the summertime climate in Qatar, that it’s going to take more than a few poor migrant workers dying to initiate a more momentous shift for the 2022 World Cup. Right now, most people have, at the very least, a sense of unease about how the bid was won and how preparations are being managed, but also realize that FIFA has yet to show any regard for such concerns.
You have to imagine that someone somewhat important has already contacted Maroh and or his representation to discourage him from speaking negatively about his experience and his thoughts on the World Cup being held there, which only goes to show the regard for which we mostly hold FIFA when it comes to ethics. Speaking only for myself, I’d assume they wouldn’t hesitate to pressure a relatively low-profile Slovenian Bundesligist into being quiet. Then again, maybe FIFA does what FIFA generally does and steamrolls right through such an item as they do everything else.
Whatever the official, back-alley response may be, I think Dominic Maroh deserves our appreciation for speaking out on the matter, whether he meant to do so in an activist-manner or not. It’s important to know that the players, too, can step outside their roles and see such injustice and wonder whether it’s not far too hefty a price to pay for what is, by nature, just a sporting competition.
Thank you Dominic Maroh. May others follow your example.