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Qatar’s World Cup featured plenty of competition — including between soccer and politics

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For much of its nearly 100-year history, the World Cup has been a clash of sport and politics — though perhaps never so much as at this year’s tournament in Qatar.

Despite organizers’ best efforts to get players and fans to focus on the soccer, the current men’s World Cup has faced enduring accusations. They’ve been accused of “sportswashing” over the host’s human rights record, with spectators detained and teams threatened over rainbow flags. It has left long-time observers wondering if FIFA has lost control of its own event.

Here’s a look at the times politics and sports collided at the 2022 men’s World Cup:

A controversial host

With its tiny population, extreme heat and lack of footballing history, the choice of Qatar as this year’s World Cup host had long raised eyebrows.

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Days before the tournament opened on Nov. 20, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said it was “a mistake” to choose Qatar, in part because of its small size — adding that the event should have instead gone to the U.S.

On the eve of the opening ceremony, FIFA president Gianni Infantino delivered a 57-minute tirade, demanding critics stop talking about politics and human rights, and instead enjoy the soccer. Infantino has since kept a low public profile.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks at a press conference in Doha on Nov. 19. In his 57-minute speech, Infantino urged critics to stop talking about politics and human rights, and instead enjoy the soccer. (Matthew Childs/Reuters)

The plight of migrant workers

Exploitation of migrant workers, including those who built Qatar’s stadiums and infrastructure, has been a dark cloud over its World Cup, with some former labourers detailing slave-like conditions with low pay and little time off.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the head of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, brushed off the recent death of a migrant worker at a training site by saying: “Death is a natural part of life.” Another worker died in a fall at a stadium on Saturday.

Al Thawadi previously said between 400 and 500 migrant workers died during World Cup construction projects.

A smiling man stands with his arms raised and his hands close to his head while a large number of people are seated on the ground around him. They are all looking straight ahead in the same direction.
A crowd of migrant workers watch France play Morocco at a fan zone inside a Doha cricket stadium on Wednesday. World Cup organizers say between 400 and 500 migrant workers died while working on construction projects for the tournament. (Ibraheem Al Omari/Reuters)

Removing rainbows

World Cup organizers took extraordinary steps to try to keep rainbow flags and clothing out of stadiums, amid criticism over Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ laws. Fans had items confiscated, and some were even removed from stadiums or detained for wearing rainbow clothing.

The captains of seven European teams abandoned a plan to wear rainbow armbands during matches after FIFA threatened them with yellow cards. In a joint statement, the teams said they couldn’t risk their success at the tournament by taking a stand (two yellow cards would result in a player being sent off and banned from the team’s next game).

Before their opening match, Germany’s players posed for a team photo with their mouths covered, in reference to being gagged by FIFA over the armbands.

11 men in white and black uniforms lean forwards with their right hands over their mouths while standing close together on the grass of a soccer pitch.
Germany’s players cover their mouths while posing for a team photo before their opening World Cup match against Japan in Doha on Nov. 23. (Annegret Hilse/Reuters)

Nonetheless, a rainbow did make it onto the pitch, when a protester carrying a peace flag interrupted a match between Portugal and Uruguay.

The flag is an unofficial symbol of world peace, which was created in Italy in 1961 and carries the word “PACE,” which is Italian for peace.

A tattooed man with brown hair wearing a blue T-shirt that has a Superman logo and text on it, and holding a rainbow flag, runs on the grass of a soccer pitch while a soccer player in a red and green uniform looks on.
A pitch invader runs across the field with a peace flag during Portugal’s group stage match against Uruguay in Lusail on Nov. 28. (Abbie Parr/The Associated Press)

Protesting Iran’s regime

Iran’s flag also became a contentious motif during the country’s games. Security guards confiscated Persian pre-revolutionary flags and signs bearing messages of support for Iran’s protest movement. There were also confrontations between protesters and supporters of the Iranian regime.

Three people - a woman and a man dressed in black with hearts painted on their faces in the colours of the Iranian flag, and a man wearing a jacket that says "tournament security police" - have a heated discussion in front of red chairs in the stands. The police officer appears to be trying to take a flag off the other man, while the woman grabs that man's arm.
A security official, right, speaks with fans who were holding up a flag advocating for women’s rights in Iran, and a shirt with the name of Mahsa Amini on it, while Iran played Wales in Doha on Nov. 25. Amini’s death in custody in September sparked massive protests across Iran. (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

But some ticket-holders did manage to carry flags, T-shirts and signs into stadiums, and they held up messages referring to women’s rights and Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death in Iranian custody in September sparked the country’s massive protests.

Iran’s soccer team stood silently during their national anthem, ahead of their opening match, in a sign of support for the protests back home. However, they sang the anthem at their next match.

10 men in red T-shirts and shorts, and an 11th man wearing light blue, stand in a line with their arms around each other on the grass of a soccer pitch. Ten children dressed in dark blue sweatsuits stand in a line in front of the men.
Iran players did not sing their national anthem before their opening World Cup match against England in Doha on Nov. 21. (Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

Iran’s group stage face-off with the U.S. was shaping up as a geopolitical event, even before U.S. Soccer posted an altered version of Iran’s flag — without its Islamic Republic emblem — on social media. The U.S. Soccer Federation later said the post was a show of support for Iran’s protest movement.

Iranian state media called for Team USA to be kicked out of the World Cup, while the U.S. team’s coach and captain were grilled by Iranian journalists over the flag image, geopolitics in the Persian Gulf, and their pronunciation of “Iran” as “eye-ran”.

Palestinian flag on display

The flag of the Palestinian territories has been a regular sight in the stands and on the pitch at this year’s World Cup — the first to take place in the Middle East — even though their team isn’t playing.

On Nov. 30, a man waving a Palestinian flag ran onto the pitch during Tunisia’s game against France.

And when Morocco reached the quarterfinals, it wasn’t their own flag they posed with. Instead, they celebrated with a Palestinian flag.

A smiling man in a white soccer shirt and shorts raises a green, white, black and red flag behind his back on a soccer pitch.
Morocco defender Jawad El Yamiq waves the Palestinian flag after his team beat Canada in Doha on Dec. 1. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada’s goalie faces discrimination

FIFA disciplined Croatia’s team after its fans taunted Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan during the two teams’ group stage clash on Nov. 27.

Borjan was born in an ethnic Serb region of Croatia that was part of the conflict that split the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. During the match, Borjan faced abusive chants and banners making light of his family’s escape from their hometown when it was taken by Croatian forces in 1995.

In a statement on its website, the Croatian Football Federation said FIFA’s disciplinary committee had fined it 50,000 Swiss francs ($72,600 Cdn) for its fans’ inappropriate behaviour.

A man dressed in an aquamarine T-shirt and shorts, with gloves on his hands, walks on grass while another man dressed in black sits on the ground holding his knees. Red, white and blue flags are visible in the background.
Canada’s goalkeeper Milan Borjan, left, and defender Kamal Miller react after losing a group stage match against Croatia during the 2022 World Cup in Al Rayyan on Nov. 27. Borjan was subjected to taunts by Croatian fans during the game, for which FIFA later fined Croatia’s soccer association. (Danielle Parhizkaran/USA TODAY Sports)

Beery bad news

Two days before the World Cup opened, Qatar — which has very strict alcohol control — announced it would not allow beer to be sold in stadiums. Instead, it could only be sold in fan zones and some other approved sites.

The news came as a shock to FIFA, ticket-holders and Budweiser alike. The beer giant has been a World Cup sponsor since 1985. It’s unclear whether it will sue World Cup organizers for breaching their multimillion-dollar contract.

The company quickly came up with another way to offload all the beer it took to Qatar: give it to the winning team.

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Canada politics: NDP to talk health care with Trudeau – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that he would sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to discuss private health care ahead of next week’s summit with premiers.

Trudeau is expected to meet with provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa next Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal.

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“The deal will be a failure if it doesn’t include major commitments to hire more health-care workers,” Singh said Monday, adding that the funding should be kept within the public system.

The last time Trudeau and Singh met one-on-one, as outlined in the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, was in December.

Singh said now is the time for the Liberal government to make clear that funding private health-care facilities will not improve the shortage of health-care workers Canada is facing.

On Monday, legislators’ first day back at the House of Commons after a winter break, the NDP requested an emergency debate on the privatization of health care. The request was denied.

During the first question period of the year, Trudeau said his government will continue to ensure the provinces and territories abide by the Canada Health Act.

“We know that even as we negotiate with the provinces to ensure that we’re delivering more family doctors, better mental-health supports, moving forward on backlogs, supporting Canadians who need emergency care, we will ensure the Canada Health Act is fully respected,” Trudeau said.

“In the past, this government has pulled back money from provinces that haven’t respected it. We will continue to do that.”

Singh said that while health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, he believes the federal government could be using the Canada Health Act more aggressively to challenge for-profit care.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this month that it’s moving some procedures to publicly funded, private facilities to address a growing surgery wait-list, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made similar moves.

“We think the federal government should be making it very clear that the solution to the current health-care crisis will not come from a privatization, for-profit delivery of care. It’ll only come by making sure we hire, recruit, retain and respect health care,” Singh said.

“Health care is already dramatically understaffed, and for-profit facilities will poach doctors and nurses — cannibalizing hospitals, forcing people to wait longer in pain and racked with anxiety.”

The New Democrats say they’re also concerned that private facilities will upsell patients for brands and services not covered by the province, and tack on extra fees and services.

Singh spent some of Parliament’s winter break holding roundtable discussions on health care in British Columbia to discuss emergency room overcrowding and worker shortages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.  

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Prime Minister stands behind newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia – The Globe and Mail

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Amira Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence from a 2019 article co-authored that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood by his newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia as the country marked the sixth anniversary of the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting, while the Quebec government and federal Conservatives called for Amira Elghawaby to step aside.

Outcry over her appointment dominated headlines in Quebec. The backlash stemmed from a 2019 article co-authored by Ms. Elghawaby – a particular line of which was perceived as showing anti-Quebec sentiment. The piece opposed Bill 21, the Quebec law that bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.

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After criticism was raised last week, Mr. Trudeau said he expected Ms. Elghawaby to clarify her remarks, which she did, saying she does not believe Quebeckers are Islamophobic. Mr. Trudeau said Monday he is satisfied and wants to move forward.

Ms. Elghawaby’s mandate – to support the federal government in rooting out Islamophobia and highlight the diverse experiences of Canadian Muslims – has grown increasingly urgent. In recent years, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed. And, over the past five years, Canada has taken the dark title of the Group of Seven nation with the highest number of Islamophobic killings, advocates note.

“There are anti-Muslim sentiments across Canada,” Ms. Elghawaby said. “This is not a Quebec issue. This is a Canadian issue.”

Amid the fracas, Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment is being celebrated by Muslim and non-Muslim advocates alike.

Stephen Brown, chief executive officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, or NCCM, said they are very happy to see Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment, noting she has a long history of advocating for Muslims, is bilingual and very dedicated.

He said the recommendation for the role came out of the National Summit on Islamophobia, in 2021, after the killing of four members of one Muslim family – the Afzaals – in London, Ont., which police said was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. Six Muslim men were killed and another 19 injured in the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017.

Born in Egypt, Ms. Elghawaby was a baby when her family immigrated to Canada, where her father worked for decades as an engineer with the federal government and her mother raised her and her siblings in an east-end Ottawa suburb.

When Ms. Elghawaby decided to start wearing a head scarf – while studying journalism at Carleton University in the early 2000s – she recalled her father warning her against it. He worried about the barriers that a visible marker of faith could pose, she said.

“I remember telling him, ‘I really believe that Canada is a place where I can put on the head scarf and I can still contribute and I can still succeed,’” she said.

Despite the realities of Islamophobia – ones that cause her to be on guard while at mosque – Ms. Elghawaby said she has always had immense hope for Canada.

Over a career spanning two decades, Ms. Elghawaby has written for CBC News and held forth as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star; been a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network; and worked with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and, most recently, for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

In interviews, several people said Ms. Elghawaby is known for her work building connections across communities.

Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, described Ms. Elghawaby as very concerned with how Islamophobia ties into women’s rights and to anti-Black racism, as well as issues of antisemitism.

She pays attention to “the need for real bridge-building and conversations,” Ms. Douglas noted. “You often found her where there’s lots of cross-cultural communications happening.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, called Ms. Elghawaby the “perfect appointment.”

“We are living in very dark times,” he said. “Most people allow the darkness to envelop us. Amira is quite the opposite. She insists that there is light.”

He said Ms. Elghawaby has been instrumental in bringing Jewish and Muslim leadership together for difficult conversations. He also described doing trainings – he on antisemitism and she on Islamophobia – for police agencies.

And together, the pair authored the 2019 column that elicited criticism from some.

The pair wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebeckers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment. A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebeckers who held negative views of Islam supported the ban.”

Ms. Elghawaby said the pair had seen Montreal Gazette reporting on the poll, which stated that “anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be the main motivation for those who support a ban on religious symbols,” and that the poll found most Quebeckers supported Bill 21.

Mr. Brown, of the NCCM, said no one felt that Léger was “Quebec bashing” when it put those numbers out.

Sarah Mushtaq, a community advocate in Windsor, Ont., who writes columns for the Windsor Star, said Ms. Elghawaby’s kindness and wisdom – and ability to navigate tense issues – have made an impact on her.

Part of being a Muslim in the public sphere means that, sometimes, “no one is ever happy with what you said,” she said.

“You never know how certain comments are going to get dug up and misconstrued,” she added.

She said the role of a federal representative dedicated to combatting Islamophobia is “long overdue” and it’s important that a visibly Muslim woman is filling it.

“Despite the naysayers, there’s a lot of people who are grateful that this role exists,” she said. “We are behind her.”

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Parliamentarians kick off return to House of Commons with debate on child care

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Parliamentarians kick off return

The economy was top of mind for members of Parliament as they returned to the House of Commons Monday, with the Liberal government kicking off the new sitting with a debate on child care.

Families Minister Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35 last December, which seeks to enshrine the Liberals’ national daycare plan into law — and commit Ottawa to maintaining long-term funding.

The federal government has inked deals with provinces and territories in an effort to cut fees down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

During a debate today, Gould said all parties should support the bill, and the national plan has begun saving families money.

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But Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said the plan is “subsidizing the wealthy” while failing to reduce wait times for child-care spaces and address labour shortages in the sector.

Ferreri told MPs that the Conservatives would be presenting “strong amendments” to the legislation.

The debate comes amid concerns about a possible recession this year, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying their focus will be on the cost of living.

But Poilievre’s Tories may have little room to manoeuvre in the legislature.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters upon his return to the House of Commons that he does not believe there is any room to work with the Conservatives during the upcoming sitting.

Instead, the NDP says it plans to push the Liberals to fulfil the terms of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement, such as the planned expansion of federal dental care.

Under the deal signed last March, the NDP agreed to support the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for the Liberals moving ahead on New Democrat policy priorities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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