Edinburgh’s Students’ Union refuses to cancel World Cup screenings after outcry

40 university societies signed an open letter calling for a boycott

Edinburgh University’s Students’ Association (EUSA) has refused calls from students to cancel planned screenings of FIFA World Cup games on campus.

40 university societies have signed an open letter to the Students’ Union, demanding it does not show the upcoming matches in its bars. It follows significant controversy surrounding the football championship due to Qatar’s poor human rights record, particularly the treatment of LGBT+ people in the country.

The president of EUSA, Niamh Roberts, has told The Edinburgh Tab that the organisation has “reflected on both the risks and benefits” of screening the games, and has “decided to continue streaming the events” in its venues.

Roberts said the decision was taken because match screenings could bring EUSA up to £25,000 in revenue (as was the case during the 2018 FIFA World Cup), which is £9,000 more than an average three-week period.

The president said the money goes towards funding essential student services including the Advice Place, which offers free and impartial help to students. Canceling the screenings, she added, would mean depriving bar employees of working hours, and Qatar was “unlikely to directly benefit” from advertising generated by screenings on Edinburgh’s campus.

The decision goes against the request of the signatories to the open letter – which included Pride Soc, The Student newspaper, and the 93% Club – who stated it is “our moral responsibility to show resistance and refuse to compromise on our Students’ Association’s values.”

Every FIFA World Cup game will be screened in the Teviot Sports Bar in Bristo Square, with coverage beginning with hosts Qatar playing Ecuador on Sunday 20 November.

The open letter was released this week, and called on EUSA leadership specifically to:

  1. “Refuse to show any of the 2022 World Cup coverage and/or games at any Students’ Association venue.
  2. “Cease all marketing promoting the 2022 World Cup.
  3. “Refuse to capitalize and make profit from an event contributing to actions inherently against Students’ Association’s core values and vision.”

EUSA says it will use the events to promote organisations that support queer representation in sport, as it “refuses to ignore” flagrant human rights abuses in the country.

The decision to host the games in Qatar has been met with backlash worldwide, fuelled largely by the abuse of LGBT+ people in the country. Male homosexuality is punishable by up to three years in prison, or the death penalty for Muslim citizens.

The UK government has published advice to fans planning on going to Qatar. It includes a suggestion that people should accept these laws: “Qatari laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. There may be serious penalties for doing something that is not an offence in the UK”.

The exploitation of migrant workers has also been a major issue, with 6,5000 migrants supposedly being killed since the country was awarded the role of hosting the World Cup back in 2010.

The signatories to the open letter calling for Edinburgh’s students’ union to cancel World Cup screenings.

In full, Niamh Roberts from the Edinburgh University Students’ Association said: “We have reflected on both the risks and the benefits of hosting viewings of the World Cup. After careful consideration, we have decided to continue streaming the events in our venues.

“In the interest of transparency, I have contextualised the decision below: During the last World Cup, the Sports Bar generated approximately £25,000 of income; this is £9,000 more than during a standard 3-week period. Every penny of this goes back into paying for essential services for students. Services like your Advice Place, which offers free and impartial advice to all students. It helps fund the Student Opportunities department who provide support to over 300 societies and student groups. It also helps ensure that we can pay utility bills, absorb increasing food and drink costs to keep them at a fixed price for you, on top of so many other services that we offer.

“Cancelling the viewing events at this stage would also mean cancelling 700 hours of additional staff time over the World Cup period, which would be directly to the cost of many students who rely on these shifts for income.

“The state of Qatar is unlikely to directly benefit from any advertising revenue generated by us streaming the events. Students will simply go to other venues and we will have lost the income highlighted above.

“We want students to be able to socialise without having to buy food and drink in another Edinburgh bar. Our venues are a safe and affordable space providing a welcome option to those who want to watch the football, without having to spend disposable income they may not have. This is especially relevant when 77% of students are cutting back on socialising to save money this year, according to NUS.

“However, we refuse to ignore the flagrant human rights abuses committed by the state of Qatar, and will be using our screening of the World Cup as an opportunity for education and activism. We will be promoting organisations which support queer representation in sport throughout the competition, and including this in our advertising. We will also be encouraging students to sign the Amnesty International petition calling for Qatar to compensate migrant workers for their horrendous treatment.

“We’re open to continuing a dialogue about the Students’ Association’s engagement with world events, and would encourage you to attend the November Student Council. At this meeting, you can vote on a motion proposed by Supply Chain Justice which would enhance the focus on human rights and sustainability in the Students’ Association’s procurement. In circumstances like these, it is difficult for us to balance our principles with the impact on our students. I recognise you may disagree with our decision, but I hope that you feel I have responded in a transparent and considered way, and we unequivocally support your right to boycott the World Cup.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Edinburgh University staff to strike at the end of November

• 42 per cent of Scottish students have experienced accent discrimination, study finds

• ‘He seems quite short’: Edinburgh University students voice their opinions on Rishi Sunak