I think there’s a big change in this last week: three reasons, I think.
One, the football is taking over as it always would do and should do – this has happened in previous tournaments by the way, maybe as not as much with the English media as this one but there was massive negativity before Brazil and Russia and other tournaments with the English press. I’ve never gone to into a tournament where there hasn’t been some sort of crisis of some kind with the host nation. It’s generally the way we behave in England, I think you know that.
I think there’s then an element of, a lot of the English press have never been over here to this country, and it’s quite difficult once you’re over here and you get to speak to people and learn about what goes on in this region and how things work. And not understand that this is, you know, difficult to carry on criticising it when you understand it more and you’re here and you feel it on the ground. That’s definitely happened.
And then a little bit the Qataris, it feels like, and maybe some of the other nations who are aligned with Qatar are just pushing back a little bit and saying ‘hang on a little bit – you’re not all bed of roses yourself’ and let’s have a look at where you’ve been and what you’ve done on your journey over the last sort of evolution of 50, 100, 200, 300 years.
I love Europe, I love Africa, I love the Middle East, I love the Far East, I love travelling around the world and it’s football that’s taught me that. We, football players, get told where to go on tour – so I go to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, China, Japan because Manchester United tell me that’s where I’m employed to go.
We come to Qatar and Dubai for training camps multiple times in the winter when we get knocked out of the FA Cup, and we come over here and we love it. And we’re all pictured over here by the English media ‘look at Manchester United players working hard in Qatar, in Doha, Manchester United players working hard in Dubai, in the training camps’. That’s been going on for 10-15 years without anybody mentioning working practices across the Middle East.
Now we come here, we’ve got this massive scrutiny – it’s a positive scrutiny though because kefala has been abolished, we need to make sure all the businesses and companies are abiding by it, we don’t know if that’s the case yet but there are many that are and that’s a positive out of this tournament.
There is progression in this country because of the scrutiny of football, we’re going to keep talking about it. What I’m going to keep doing in seven or eight weeks when we’re all talking about the Premier League again in England and no-ones even thinking about Qatar, the migrant workers, and thinking about stadiums and working practices, kefala and LGBTQ rights, women’s rights.
Maybe that’s when we should continue shining lights on things in each others’ countries when the spotlight is off. That will be really interesting to see if that happens.