England and Wales’ Inadequate Symbol of Tolerance will make little impact in Qatar

The ‘One Love’ rainbow emblem is at least a gesture, but one that feels corporate and meaningless at this World Cup

And you shall know us by the trail of rainbow love hearts. It is time to consider in detail the Inadequate Symbol Of Tolerance adopted this week by the English and Welsh FAs; a symbol of tolerance that will be worn during the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is punishable by torture and death. And yes, that really does sound like one sweet, sweet symbol of tolerance.

But could we have gone further? Should the FAs have insisted on a slightly more urgent Inadequate Symbol Of Tolerance? Should it have a bolder font, for example? Perhaps the Generic Statement Of Concern, released alongside the Inadequate Symbol Of Tolerance, could have a more disapproving tone.

Bottom line: is the Symbol Of Tolerance getting “cut-through”? What are the eyeballs on this thing? Could the Inadequate Symbol Of Tolerance, hear me out, actually be genius? Is something brilliant happening here?

On balance, perhaps not. Yes, the symbol looks like the cover artwork for a mid-90s rave-pop track with vocals by someone who used to be in Grange Hill. And yes, “standing against all forms of discrimination” may be a bit All-Lives-Matter, a statement so deliberately vague it is hard either to agree or to disagree.

And, yes, the players wearing this band of love will still be doing so in a stadium haunted by the ghosts of indentured workers. There is even a case this entire campaign is no more than a swatch of empty branding, a piece of messaging so meaningless it reeks of its own brand of airless corporate death.

But apart from all that, the One Love symbol is at least a gesture, and gestures have value. It was heartening to see it on the arm of Harry Kane, who has been understatedly insistent in his support for tolerance and inclusion in football. Seeing Kane like this will give support and encouragement to someone in the world. This is a thing.

Harry Kane wearing OneLove captain’s armband
Harry Kane wearing a One Love captain’s armband. Photograph: The FA/PA

The England squad will also be inviting migrant workers to their training base, which may or may not help the migrant workers. More practically the FA has offered support for the idea of compensation for families of those killed on World Cup construction projects. But then, this might also be difficult as Qatar maintains pretty much nobody has been been killed on World Cup construction projects. What’s zero times a billion dollars? OK, it’s a deal!

Gareth Southgate was correct when he said England would be criticised whatever they did on these issues, a fact dictated by his second point, that “there is a limit to what we can affect”. This is a startling statement, if only because it feels like the closest anyone has actually got on this topic to telling the truth.

But not exclusively. Here is another story from Qatar this week. Dr Hend Al Muftah is a prominent Qatari public servant, currently ambassador extraordinary to Qatar’s mission to the UN in Geneva. She gives lectures on human rights. In 2016 she was named the most influential social media person in Qatar.

A year later she was appointed to Qatar’s Consultative Council by the emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the same emir who assured world leaders this week that the World Cup would offer open arms (note: not actual open arms) to “fans from all walks of life”, which is apparently code for “the gays”.

Dr Hend has backed the Scoring4TheGoals campaign that “breaks down barriers & enhances cultural understanding”. Her LinkedIn page says she is “very interested in working with youth and diverse cultures”. She sounds great, progressive and the ideal candidate, as lobbied by Qatar, to become chair of the UN Forum on Human Rights. Which, in a happy case of optics, takes place as the World Cup starts.

Except judging by the content of her social media accounts, Dr Hend also appears to think gay rights are “disgusting rights” (“May God curse them!”) and that “Jews have dominated, tyrannized and ruled the world”, and are “our enemies” who should be “paralyzed”.

Although this does explain why she posted a viral message that apparently promises to “trample the last corpse of a cursed Zionist”, and linked to the observation that Jews, gays and western society are responsible for “obscenity, decadence, cocaine, crack, nudity, sex and violence”. Which does, to be fair, sound like a decent night out.

Sadly for Dr Hend’s candidacy the monitoring organisation UN Watch brought this content to light, describing her as “Qatar’s ambassador of hate”, which doesn’t sound the right ambassador for a human rights forum during the One Love World Cup.

Why am I telling this story? Because for all its grim details, and notwithstanding the fact Dr Hend may have changed her views, it tells us something genuine about tolerance and opposed cultural values. Basically, and even speaking as an evil-doer, it’s refreshing to hear someone say what they actually think.

It is clear enough what is happening with the Symbol Of Tolerance. A fine line is being trodden between placating the home audience, who care about this version of tolerance and human rights, and not offending your hosts, who don’t.

Qatar predicted the future 12 years ago and has essentially won this long game. Qatar has 200 years of gas reserves in an energy crisis. Qatar is not looking for advice on how to behave. Qatar has a drone army. Qatar has the World Cup and the Glastonbury spider. Qatar will welcome you in and put on a show. But with the best will in the world, Qatar thinks you’re probably going to hell anyway. Cool symbol though, bro.

Unwilling to boycott, unable to turn away, it is hard to blame the FA’s statement drafters and logo designers, who find themselves trying to corporate-message their way out of a place where nothing can ever be right because basically everything sounds wrong.

The chief villains are of course Fifa, not just for awarding the World Cup to Qatar, but for even entertaining a bid, for taking the money, while pretending to espouse the noble ideals of tolerance, inclusion and all the rest. In the face of this what do we have? Love hearts, curtly phrased statements. And a sense, above all, of the limits of things.


Barney Ronay

The GuardianTramp

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