Much has been written and spoken about Qatar in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup later this month. Some of that is how FIFA pushed the tournament to the fall to avoid the harsh summer heat. But a lot of it revolves around the country's treatment of workers who helped build the stadiums which will be home to the matches this month.
And now, a prominent player for one of the biggest professional and national clubs has spoken out against Qatar.
Manchester United and Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes recently told Sky Sports he and many others aren't happy with the World Cup being played in Qatar for a variety of reasons — most notably the schedule changes and the treatment of migrant workers.
"It's not exactly the time we want to be playing in the World Cup," Fernandes said, referencing the move from the summer to fall. "I think for everyone, players and fans, it's not the best time. Kids will be at school, people will be working and the timings will not be the best for people to watch the games.
"We know the surroundings of the World Cup, what has been in the past few weeks, past few months, about the people that have died on the construction of the stadiums," he added. "We are not happy about that at all.
Fernandes wasn't the only United player to publicly denounce the location of the World Cup. Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen added that, while he plans to play, he doesn't agree with how or why Qatar became the host city.
"A lot has been written, there's a lot of focus on how it's happened and why it's in Qatar," Eriksen said. "I don't agree with how it's happened but we're footballers and we play football. Change has to come from somewhere else."
Eriksen could perhaps be referencing the allegations Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup by nefarious tactics, though Qatar was cleared in a 2014 investigation. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter added earlier this month that he voted against Qatar and that the awarding them the host country rights was "a mistake."
Other players who've condemned Qatar
Fernandes and Eriksen aren't the first and they might not be the last to speak out against holding the World Cup in Qatar.
Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka called an anti-gay commercial made by a Qatar World Cup ambassador "very oppressive" earlier this month and said, "it leaves you speechless that something like this can be said by a World Cup ambassador shortly before a World Cup." Qatar has one of the strictest anti-LGBTQ laws and some fans are still afraid to attend the World Cup despite the country's assertion that "all are welcome.
Fellow German and current Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos said last year that the working conditions in Qatar were "absolutely unacceptable."
"You have to call a spade a spade when it comes to working conditions," Kroos said on his podcast in 2021. "It's about many workers from Qatar, but also migrant workers, having to work non-stop in sometimes 50 degree heat (122 Fahrenheit). At the same time, they also suffer from malnutrition, a lack of drinking water is insane, especially at these temperatures. As a result, safety at work is absolutely not guaranteed, medical care is not there and sometimes some violence is carried out on the workers."
FIFA asks players to "focus on football"
Current FIFA president Gianni Infantino reportedly wrote a letter to all 32 World Cup teams asking them to focus on football rather than speak out against Qatar.
Tottenham and France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris somewhat agreed with this sentiment and said he believes "there's too much pressure on the players" to protest the World Cup. He added that players are "at the bottom of the chain." Though not as forceful, this is similar to what Eriksen said in that Lloris is implying that more important decision-makers should be making any necessary changes.
“If you have to apply pressure, first of all, it had to be 10 years ago," Lloris said, per The Athletic. "Now it’s too late. You have to understand that for players this opportunity happens every four years and you want every chance to succeed. The focus has to be on the field. The rest is for politicians. We are athletes.”
This is a sentiment shared by Bayern Munich and German defender Joshua Kimmich, who said in September that players are "12 years too late" to protest the World Cup being in Qatar despite any misgivings about the location of the tournament.
"It's a balancing act," Kimmich said. "On the one hand, you're looking forward to the huge event; on the other hand, there are these grievances that we address again and again."
Whether or not you believe either point to be true, the tournament will go on. Qatar opens the World Cup with a match against Ecuador on Nov. 20.