DOHA, Qatar — United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter said that he and his team will continue to push the team’s “Be the Change” message while in Qatar, even as FIFA has told participants not to raise awareness about the host country’s treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Those two issues have been highlighted from the moment that the Persian Gulf nation was awarded the World Cup back in 2010. Same-sex relationships are against the law in Qatar, and migrant workers, some of whom built the stadiums that will be used in the World Cup, have had to endure extremely difficult working and living conditions.
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Earlier this month, a letter from FIFA president Gianni Infantino and general secretary Fatma Samoura implored the 32 participating teams to “Please, let’s now focus on the football!”and “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
The emir of Qatar, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, also weighed in, denouncing “fabrications and double standards” in what he has called an “unprecedented campaign” against a World Cup host nation.
But Berhalter said he and his side will continue to raise awareness on social issues.
“I think that when we are on the world stage and [we’re in] Qatar, it’s important to bring awareness to these issues, and that’s what Be the Change is about,” Berhalter said. “It’s not just stateside that we want to bring attention to social issues. It’s also abroad.
“We recognize that Qatar has made strides and there has been a ton of progress, but there’s still some work to do. And it’s just about, Be the Change basically represents everyone’s individual opportunity to make change and to have change start with them. So I think it’s appropriate that we have that here as well.”
The U.S. crest has also been tweaked with rainbow colors, although only in places controlled by the U.S, such as its training facility.
Berhalter added that he has been talking to his team about social justice issues in Qatar for “the past 18 months.” The players are on board as well.
U.S. goalkeeper Sean Johnson said, “[Be the Change is] something that we’ve been really proud of, and obviously we’ll continue to work towards being impactful” in Qatar.
On Tuesday the team is scheduled to take part in an event where it will coach 20 migrant workers who were involved in constructing tournament infrastructure. The event is intended to celebrate the workers’ contribution to the World Cup.
The Be the Change program started in November 2020, with the message being placed on the team’s warm-up jackets. It was done as a way of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the social justice protests that took place across the U.S. in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
The USMNT later used the phrase as a way of supporting gun control measures that were put before the U.S. Congress.