Jackson Irvine urges footballers to use 2022 World Cup to speak out on human rights

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Australian midfielder Jackson Irvine has urged footballers heading to the 2022 World Cup to use the opportunity of the tournament in Qatar to speak out on human rights issues and raise their voices by a global audience.

Irvine has been outspoken on various off-pitch issues in the past and was instrumental in penning the Socceroos’ groundbreaking statement last month which raised collective concerns about Qatar’s human rights record. .

The ongoing issue of homophobia in football is an issue close to Irvine’s heart, given that he has family and friends who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Related: Socceroos issues collective statement to address Qatar’s human rights record

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, carrying penalties of up to seven years in prison. Last week, Fifa President Gianni Infantino insisted that “everyone is welcome [at the World Cup] without distinction of origin, origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation or nationality”, echoing the remarks made by the organizers in Qatar.

But Irvine wants clearer messages about inclusivity to come out of the tournament. He said in a new Fifpro Global Football Players Association series, #ShineALight, that he wanted to use the global spotlight on tournament players to raise awareness of non-football issues.

“These few months provide a unique short period of time where the focus is on us,” he said. “This is an opportunity that should not be wasted as, at the moment, there is a lack of clarity and a sense that the LGBTQIA+ community will not be welcome at a global tournament.”

Irvine spearheaded the Socceroos video statement released in late October which raised concerns about the “suffering” of migrant workers and the inability in Qatar of LGBTQ+ people “to love the person they choose”. The video – the first collective statement made by a group of national team players – made headlines around the world.

“We as players have a big role to play,” he said. “The education and provision of information to those involved in football is going to play an extremely important role, just like us.

“Collective action can come from pressure from individuals to put the sport on that path. I hope to see that collective action at the World Cup. When you play on the biggest stage, in the biggest tournament in sport, it elevates the platform and focus on individual players and footballers as a collective to talk about the issues that matter.

Irvine is the co-captain of St Pauli – the German club known for its social activism and left-wing political stance – and a member of Professional Footballers Australia, the players’ union which has been vocal in promoting gay rights.

Related: 2022 World Cup Squad Guides Part 13: Australia

He said he has noticed “a huge change” in recent years around the unacceptable and outdated language used in football.

Irvine has named fellow Australian Josh Cavallo as one of the driving forces behind this change. Cavallo became in October last year the only known top male professional footballer in the world to come out as gay.

Although education and information on the subject is becoming more freely available, there is still a long way to go, Irvine said.

“We’re starting to see players coming out and getting massive reactions of support from the football community,” he said.

“It’s hugely important that players continue to speak out and use our voices for good – but to do that we need to feel comfortable and supported. Let’s be clear here: homophobia in football is always a problem. There are a lot of problems facing sport and football in general – and I think any sort of toxic male atmosphere, which football unfortunately sometimes has, doesn’t just make people in the gay community feel welcome and part of the game. That has to change – and it has to change now.

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