MARTIN SAMUEL: FA can't get tough on human rights in Qatar

MARTIN SAMUEL: The FA can’t get tough on human rights in Qatar… they’ve already done a deal and spent years creeping around them, desperate for favour and influence

  • Former FA chief Greg Clarke signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar
  • There was not much mention of the conditions for migrant workers or slavery
  • Organisations like the FA have spent far too many years creeping around Qatar
  • Instead of standing up, the FA opted for a course of appeasement instead

Harry Kane may get a shock if he talks to the Football Association about a protest at Wembley this week over human rights in Qatar.

They’ve got a deal, you see. A memorandum of understanding, it is called. Signed in February 2018 by then-chairman Greg Clarke on a visit to Doha.

‘The FA is pleased to commit to this knowledge-sharing partnership with the Qatar Football Association,’ said Clarke.

Former FA chairman Greg Clarke signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar in 2018

‘We have a long history of collaboration with various national associations to share knowledge and experience to support the development of football. For Qatar, developing the game across the country is a key objective as they approach the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022.’

Not much mention of the conditions for migrant workers there, you may notice. Not much talk of the modern slavery of the kafala system, or the report from Human Rights Watch that alleged hundreds were dying every year building Qatar’s World Cup.

And that’s strange because those accusations came in September 2017, just five months before Clarke left Doha with his precious memorandum.

Harry Kane (left) may get a shock if he speaks to the FA this week about a potential protest

After Norway, Holland and Belgium began agitating on human rights, however, the FA sensed the changing mood.

‘There is still much more to be done,’ it intoned sagely in a statement addressing workers’ rights last week.

And why might that be? Perhaps because organisations like the FA have spent many years creeping around Qatar, desperate for favour and influence, which acts as tacit endorsement of the by-any-means-necessary nature of this tournament and its infrastructure programme. 

Instead of protesting or making a stand, or at least remaining aloof, the FA, with their piece of paper, decided on a course of appeasement – sorry, collaboration – and are only reacting now because it’s proving such a bad look.

Germany, Norway (above) and Holland are among the teams to have agitated on human rights

As for knowledge sharing, what a meeting that must have been. A country that has never qualified for a World Cup it hasn’t bought, sitting down with one that hasn’t won a major tournament in close on 55 years.

All the people worth bunging to win a bid are dead, in prison or in hiding, and goal-line technology has scuppered the idea of getting a Russian linesman in to steer the final your way.

It’s hard to see what either side has got to offer in terms of intelligence.

So whatever message, if any, the players choose to send out before kick-off against Poland will be rather undermined by Clarke’s agreement. Check out foreign broadcast rights for domestic leagues and major UEFA tournaments and it is clear to see Qatar as good as owns football on the European continent anyway.

The FA sensed the changing mood after the protests but has still been creeping around Qatar

So the FA are far from alone. The Champions League, the Europa League, the Premier League, Ligue 1, LaLiga, the Bundesliga, Serie A – Qatar is helping finance them all.

Yet the FA want to play both ends. Pious statements on one sheet of paper, memorandums on another and, in reality, they do nothing. They are not influencing from the inside, not challenging from outside, and if at last they have found the smallest voice, it is far too late for many.

Once again, they may try to T-shirt the bad guys into submission and they’ll probably come up with a catchy slogan for commentators to parrot, too.

But it’s the understanding that counts.


Without doubt, England’s Under 21 team are underachieving and have been for some time.

The manager, Aidy Boothroyd, is therefore rather lucky that young English players are getting more game-time at their clubs than in recent years, with less emphasis on the international production line. 

Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount, for instance, only played four games each at Under 21 level; Reece James played two, Trent Alexander-Arnold three; Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice never played for England at that level at all.

Frank Lampard looks like the best option to stop England’s Under 21 team from underachieving

And Boothroyd is not a name heard much when these players are recounting those who shaped their careers. ‘Is my job producing players?’ asked Boothroyd before the latest defeat by Portugal. ‘Is it winning games? Is it both?’ Well, either would do.

As it stands, England’s Under 21s aren’t winning, and the production seems to be done by men like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard.

Indeed, with Boothroyd’s contract up in the summer, and given his work encouraging young players at Chelsea, Lampard looks the best option.


How bizarre, Joey Barton’s insistence that he would never manage Sunderland.

Lee Johnson, the current manager, has got them to third in League One, two points off automatic promotion with games in hand. Win these and they would go top.

Barton, meanwhile, is fighting relegation at Bristol Rovers, having been sacked by Fleetwood. At the weekend, Rovers lost 1-0 at home to Sunderland. 

Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton’s insistence he would never manage Sunderland was bizarre

‘The red and white side of the North East don’t like me,’ said Barton. ‘But deep down there’s a side to them that secretly does and they’d want me to manage them. They just can’t say that out loud because they know I’d reject them. As much as they want me, I could never do it.’

Having rejected a job at a more successful club, that he’s never been offered, never been linked with and never – to any public knowledge – even been considered for, we can only wait in trembling anticipation for the latest bulletin from Joey’s world. 

In the meantime, a spokesman for Sunderland said: ‘Huh?’


This has not been the most inspiring international break with qualifying matches against San Marino and Albania, but the prospect of seeing England’s defenders trying to contain Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, arguably the world’s most potent striker, was a genuinely intriguing one. So, naturally, he’s injured and will miss Wednesday’s game. At least you haven’t bought a ticket.


Jack Draper, 19, was given a wildcard entry to the Miami Open, as one of IMG’s most promising young clients (apparently, it’s a thing).

A Wimbledon boys’ runner-up in 2018, Draper collapsed with exhaustion after one hour and 21 minutes of the first set while playing the World No 105, Mikhail Kukushkin. 

And he’s a young man, hugely out of his comfort zone against an experienced 33-year-old opponent.

Even so, it was a painful illustration of the standard and demands of the international tennis circuit, even outside the Slams.

With the passing of each year, this country will grow to have more admiration for the achievements of Sir Andy Murray.

Jack Draper collapsed with exhaustion and was out of his comfort zone vs Mikhail Kukushkin


One of the biggest myths in sport is that hosting a major tournament is good for the progress of a nation.

It may provide an economic fillip, the construction industry will be happy and, in some places, corrupt officials, too – yet the sport itself often sees no benefit.

In 2010, South Africa hosted the first World Cup in Africa. One would imagine their football would soar after that. Yet this weekend, they lost 2-0 in Sudan and missed out on the Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Cameroon next year.

There have been six editions of the tournament since 2010 and South Africa have failed to qualify for half. They have reached two quarter-finals and been eliminated in the group stage once.

Since hosting, they have never qualified for the World Cup. A nation of that size and comparative wealth should be a force. South Africa’s repeated disappointment confirms that a fancy show is no compensation for talent, effectively directed. 

That is what creates true progress.


Arsenal are worried that the fee for Martin Odegaard this summer will be as much as £50 million after his successful loan spell.

Yet surely that was the point of Real Madrid letting him travel? The hope was he either returned improved and ready to resume his career in LaLiga, or he impressed sufficiently to command a significant price.

If Arsenal are feeling used, that’s because they have been. They either pay the premium or make the most of their brief time together.

Arsenal are worried that the fee for Martin Odegaard this summer will be as much as £50m


Asked about Gareth Bale’s future, his agent, Jonathan Barnett, said it had not been discussed and was too early to decide. No, it isn’t. 

There was a brief period when it appeared Bale might be Tottenham’s secret weapon in their battle to make the top four but that excitement quickly evaporated.

His announcement that he was only motivated by staying fit for Wales at the European Championship was then an outright insult. Daniel Levy must have winced. 

Bale says he will be returning to Real Madrid in the summer and he has done nowhere near enough to leave a positive impression at Spurs. 

Maybe they could facilitate that move to Spain now, rather than subsidise a glorified fitness programme?


German football has always had a hot tip for itself. It is why English newspapers are full of Bundesliga experts telling us how great Kai Havertz and Timo Werner are, when evidence suggests they might be, one day.

They looked good in German football, mind. Maybe it’s not as collectively strong.

Thomas Muller doesn’t agree. This week he made claims for German club football that, again, were scant on factual support.

Thomas Muller made claims for German football clubs that had been scant on factual support

‘I do not feel the teams of the Premier League are super, super strong,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if the quality of the clubs is really better. 

‘Normally, when we play English teams, we have a good experience. And when you compare the fourth of the German league with the fourth of the Premier League, when they play a knockout game any team can win.’ 

Not exactly. This century, if we leave Muller’s Bayern Munich out of it, there have been 25 meetings of English and German clubs in knockout European ties – 17 times the English club has progressed, including final victories. In fact, since 2009, the only English club eliminated by the other Bundesliga teams in knockout games is Tottenham – by Borussia Dortmund in 2016, and RB Leipzig last year.

Munich are different. Munich have a good record against English clubs. They have knocked out Arsenal four times in recent seasons, Manchester United three times, Chelsea once. But that’s Munich, not German football. 

Muller said having the biggest league isn’t the same as having the best, but it is still preferable

Dortmund’s Champions League final appearance in 2013 is the only time since 2002 a Bundesliga club other than Munich has got that far. There has been one German finalist in the Europa League or UEFA Cup since 2002, and none since Werder Bremen in 2009.

Muller said having the biggest league isn’t the same as having the best, but it is certainly preferable to having one great club.

The strength in depth of German football is greatly overstated.


What has always set Russian cheating apart is that it was state sponsored.

Yet with the news that WADA are investigating UK Anti-Doping for effectively allowing British Cycling to conduct private inquiries into abnormal tests, this country is edging ever closer to a scandal that goes much further than one rogue rider, doctor or unexplained parcel. 

If UKAD were complicit in a cover-up, this ascends to the very top.


Almost certainly, there were those at the Football Association of Ireland who saw Mick McCarthy as a dinosaur.

That’s the insult often tossed his way. An old-fashioned coach playing old-fashioned football. Yet in McCarthy’s 10 games as Ireland manager in 2019-20, his team lost once and won five. 

And, yes, two of the victories were against Gibraltar but, as Ireland have just gone down deservedly at home to Luxembourg, nothing can be taken for granted any longer.

There were those at the Football Association of Ireland who saw Mick McCarthy as a dinosaur

McCarthy was hurried out of the door last year and Stephen Kenny introduced with plans to play an expansive, stylish brand of football.

McCarthy did not even get the opportunity to stay until the European Championship play-offs, having qualified, and Ireland went out on penalties to Slovakia. 

Ten games in, Kenny is yet to win. The team who lost to Luxembourg included players from Rochdale, Ipswich, Luton and Preston. This does not scream style and possession as a strength.

Not for the first time, it appears McCarthy’s crime was tailoring his football to resources and circumstances, rather than fevered, idealistic dreams. He played in an Ireland team who knew what it was about. This one has no clue.


If it was just about the car, Lewis Hamilton would not have crossed the line first in Bahrain on Sunday. 

Max Verstappen was better equipped but that just brought out the best in Hamilton, who held him off during a thrilling finish.

Hamilton is the only driver this century to win the championship in a car that did not also win the constructors’ title. What an incredible feat it would be to do that twice. 

And what better proof of the true balance between man and machine. 

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