Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum was involved in a fiery exchange during a Holland press conference on Tuesday.
The Dutch international is set to captain the Oranje in their upcoming World Cup qualifiers in the continued absence of Virgil van Dijk.
He sat alongside new boss Frank de Boer to face the media, where De Boer began by making a statement on next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
His response came amid increasing calls within the Netherlands to boycott the finals in response to Human Rights violations within the country – notably an exploitation of migrant workers, who have to hand over their passports when they enter the country.
It comes following recent revelations that over 6500 migrant workers – including those working on the building of stadia for the tournament – have died in the 11 years since Qatar was awarded the rights to host the competition.
That in turn led to a statement at the weekend from the KNVB (Dutch Federation) in which they declared that they would not boycott the finals as it would not benefit workers – who have in some quarters been labelled as slaves – in Qatar. The KNVB have been heavily criticised.
De Boer played in the Middle Eastern country towards the end of this playing career and admitted having to hand over his passport too, declaring: “I was not allowed to just leave. I was also a kind of prisoner.”
He also insisted the Dutch wouldn’t boycott, but did declare: “Let’s hope that it will not happen again that a final tournament is played in a country where we have doubts.”
Wijnaldum, 30, who won the FIFA Club World Cup with Liverpool in Qatar in 2019, then offered the players’ viewpoint.
He indicated that senior Dutch stars have spoken about the finals, declaring: “It’s a big topic.
“We have of course talked about it now, also with the KNVB and Amnesty International, and we believe that we should go to have a greater impact on change.
“If we make a plan with other countries to pay attention to it, then that is better. Now it is still difficult to say how we should do that. We have yet to qualify.
“As the World Cup gets closer, that will become clearer.”
The Liverpool star has previously spoken out about racist abuse on the field of play, stating in 2019 to the Mirror’s Darren Lewis that if a player is racially abused then all players should leave the field of play: “That’s the way you support another person. Because why should you go on? If you go on, it will never stop.”
That stance was subsequently brought up, as Wijnaldum was asked about what concrete action, if any, he would take to to highlight human rights violations in Qatar.
He replied: “This is a different matter, but just like with racism, we must all do something about this.
“We have also not chosen to hold the World Cup in Qatar.
“We can pay attention to it. I think many people have not always been aware of the situation in Qatar.
“It wasn’t until I went to play the World Cup there with Liverpool that I really heard those stories.
“I knew that the KNVB did not agree with it at the time, but that number of 6,500 deaths… I did not know. I think that applies to a lot of players.”
The press conference duly continued, with De Boer asked about Donny van de Beek and other topics ahead of the Dutch games, which begin against Turkey on Wednesday night, before meetings with Latvia and Gibraltar.
However, when the press conference finished, Wijnaldum, clearly frustrated, wasn’t quite done, turning to the journalist who had asked the earlier question and asking: “May I say something else?”
He continued: “I’ve been thinking about the question you asked about racism and Qatar. Do you really understand what you are doing?
“To compare the racism story with Qatar. Basically you say that if someone is racist towards a brown person, then you shouldn’t stand up for yourself – because you are going to play football in Qatar. That is very wrong.
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“Now you are actually saying that if you are treated racially, you are not allowed to stand up for yourself.
“It cannot be compared, the racism story is very difficult. I think we have played with the Netherlands in South Africa and Brazil. Not everything is going well there.
“I’ve been thinking about it and I think it’s weird. I actually think you say that if that happens and you do it then you should do it here too.”
The journalist in question responded, stating it wasn’t his desire to compare the situations, to which an unhappy Wijnaldum said: “You quote it like that and in my opinion that is not good.”
The Dutch arm of Amnesty International immediately tagged Wijnaldum on Twitter, urging him to “just do something NOW”, while his comparison between Qatar and previous tournaments in South Africa (2010) and Brazil (2014) has been criticised.
Wijnaldum will captain the Dutch side against Turkey on Wednesday night in Istanbul.
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