Football Australia boss' telling move amid ugly World Cup furore

Football Australia's CEO James Johnson has stopped short of throwing his support behind embattled FIFA president Gianni Infantino (L). Pic: AAP
Football Australia's CEO James Johnson has stopped short of throwing his support behind embattled FIFA president Gianni Infantino (L). Pic: AAP

Football Australia's CEO James Johnson has stopped short of throwing his support behind Gianni Infantino, amid a wave of backlash against the FIFA president at the World Cup in Qatar. European nations have escalated their protests against the president of world football's governing body, over his response to several controversies around the tournament in Qatar.

Infantino was widely condemned before the World Cup got underway after delivering a truly bizarre opening address, in which he attempted to express his support and solidarity with migrant workers and the LGBTI+ community, while trying to justify Qatar's hosting of the tournament.

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Homosexuality is forbidden in Qatar, which has sparked protests from a number of teams including the Socceroos, while the host nation has also come under fire for its extensive use and alleged mistreatment of thousands of migrant workers recruited to build the eight stadiums required for the tournament.

Germany's players became the latest to protest against Infantino's organisation after covering their mouths in a team photo before their opening game against Japan, in what was viewed as a blunt criticism of FIFA's attempts to silence the human rights debate in Qatar.

Seen here, Germany's World Cup squad protests against FIFA for trying to silence the human rights debate at the World Cup in Qatar.
Germany's World Cup squad protested against FIFA for trying to silence the human rights debate at the World Cup in Qatar. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

"It was a sign from the team, from us, that FIFA is muzzling us," Germany coach Hansi Flick told reporters. Germany's interior minister Nancy Faeser, who is also responsible for sports, also wore a OneLove armband in the grandstand while sitting next to Infantino.

Fans have been banned from entering Doha stadiums while wearing rainbow colours signifying support for same-sex relations, which are illegal in Qatar, with one American journalist revealing that he was briefly detained before the USA's opening game for trying to enter a stadium wearing a rainbow t-shirt.

Captains of seven European nations were also threatened by FIFA with yellow cards if they carried through on pre-tournament plans to wear OneLove armbands at the Cup. The move infuriated the nations and human rights groups and came after Infantino labelled western nations "hypocrites" for criticising Qatar. In response, Denmark vowed not to vote for Infantino when he stands for re-election as FIFA president next year.

When asked whether Football Australia would follow Denmark's lead, Johnson did not endorse the FIFA president but baulked at taking a similar stance. He did suggest, however, that if another candidate were to run against Infantino then Australian officials would be curious to know what their "vision" is for the sport.

"We are not in a position right now to decide that, we don't have to. At this stage I understand that it is only President Infantino that will run," Johnson told reporters.

"He will be running unelected so I am not sure that there will be a decision to make. But in the event there was a contested election, we would ask the candidates what their vision is."

Australia want to see more reforms in Qatar

The Socceroos released a video message last month demanding Qatar decriminalise same-sex relations and also describing recent workplace reforms in the Middle Eastern nation as inconsistent. Governments of some nations have boycotted sending delegates to the Cup but Australia's sports minister Anika Wells has held talks with the Qatari government since last Sunday.

"We believe in open dialogue and we believe that we need to show up to have it. So I showed up to take Australia's seat at the table again and to have that open dialogue," Wells told reporters on Wednesday.

"There was no need for me to make clear to the Qatari government the Socceroos' video, obviously that had been broadcast around the world."

Wells said Qatar's government wanted wider acknowledgement of recent reforms progress in the strict Islamic nation.

"On behalf of the Australian government I made clear ... we acknowledge the progress that has been made. There is more to be done but I really feel like we had an constructive, frank discussion about that ... I was quite surprised by how humble, honest and constructive they were about it," she added.

"I conveyed to them what has been made very clear to me in Australia, which is that Australians want to see more done... I put that in the broader context of that is the case for all of us, we could all do more to advance human rights.

"And that this global scrutiny will turn itself upon us in July next year (when) we host the Women's World Cup."

Australian midfielder Jackson Irvine, who featured in the Socceroos video, hoped hosting the Women's World Cup would prompt scrutiny on his nation's humans rights.

"People talk about the hypocrisy of these issues (in Qatar) but not talking about ones that happen at home. I hope that's something we continue to explore in future as part of our growth as a team and as individuals. That is something to look at moving forward," Irvine said in Qatar.

with AAP

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