WITH Scotland inching closer to their first World Cup in 24 years, the thought of not making it into the play-offs and eventually winning through to the tournament proper is a hard enough one for the Tartan Army to stomach. But what if we did in fact qualify, and then decided not to go?

The obvious joke is that Scotland have been boycotting the World Cup for decades, so why stop now? But it is a serious consideration, and not so outlandish a notion.

The human rights abuses perpetrated by the Qatari state and the perilous working conditions endured by those tasked with building the stadiums and infrastructure required to host the tournament have led to calls for nations all over the world to take a stand and withdraw on principle.

So far, only Norway have come close. The Norwegian Football Federation were forced to hold an extraordinary general meeting in June after grassroots fan organisations, some of their top clubs and most notable players expressed their concerns over the nation playing in Qatar.

"We can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football," said a statement from Eliteserien club Tromso IL, but they will have no choice.

In a poll, 49 percent of the Norwegian public were in favour of withdrawing from the qualification process, but the vote held between the NFF’s 368 delegates, made up from teams across the country and members of the NFF board, saw just 121 of them vote in favour of a boycott. With a 50 percent majority required to force through the motion, Erling Haaland et al are still battling it out with The Netherlands and Turkey to make it to the ‘party’.

“For the last five or six years we have worked together with human rights and labour organisations to increase pressure on Qatar and FIFA,” NFF president Terje Svendsen said after the vote, with all the conviction of someone who knows he is applying a band aid to an axe wound.

Playing in Qatar will "unfortunately be like playing on a cemetery”, said Ole Kristian Sandvik, spokesman of the Norwegian Supporters Alliance, in reference to the thousands of workers who have reportedly died preparing the Gulf State for the tournament.

Quite apart from accusations of exploitation, there are astonishing estimates of the numbers of worker deaths. In February, The Guardian reported that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago. These aren’t exclusively workers who have died on-site at stadium construction sites, it should be noted, but immigrant workers who have died due to a variety of factors, most notably respiratory issues caused by the horrendous working and living conditions.

Those are mind-boggling numbers, and they are unsurprisingly disputed by the Qatari authorities. Their contention is that the number of deaths on the construction sites stands at just three since 2014, with another 35 having died away from their workplaces. Use your own judgment over which numbers are closer to the reality.

Given the stories of appalling conditions and the unspeakable suffering that has been endured in the name of this World Cup, the notion of withdrawing from the tournament to draw attention to these issues seems a perfectly understandable and noble concept. But the counterpoint – quite apart from the financial penalties FIFA would impose upon the SFA and the lost revenue - boils down to this; what difference would it make?

When the NFF held their vote back in June, committee chairman Sven Mollekleiv perhaps summed up the frustration and futility of a single country taking such a stand.

"You need a critical mass behind it,” Mollekleiv said. “An opposition that calls for it in the country, the UN to put pressure on the authorities, the business world, the trade unions and civil society to put pressure on it in the long term".

The prospect of a unified boycott though ranges from slim to none. The only reason a European-wide boycott was mooted recently was to protest against the prospect of FIFA holding a World Cup every two years, which is seemingly the line for the UEFA members.

As the recent takeover of Newcastle United has shown, top level football has a remarkable ability to hold its nose when there is money to be made. And as the scenes of jubilation from kaffiyeh-clad Geordies outside St James’s Park proved, so do supporters when there is a chance of success for their team.

Money talks in football as much as anywhere else. And so, Saudi Arabia will be allowed to proceed with their attempts at ‘sportswashing’ their own appalling human rights record in the English Premier League, just as Qatar will on the world stage next winter and Russia were allowed to in 2018.

The window of opportunity to make a difference through a boycott has long since passed. Unfortunately, if Scotland were to withdraw upon qualification, they would simply be replaced by another nation and the whole show would roll on as if nothing had happened.

Whether knowing we had made a stand on a point of principle would be enough to compensate the fans as they looked in from the outside yet again, or console the players who have slogged around Europe to get close to fulfilling what is likely a childhood dream for most of them, is debatable.

Perhaps the best way to draw further international attention to what is going on in Qatar is to get there and then use the global platform to highlight these issues. Predictably, Norway’s players have led the way in wearing T-shirts prior to qualifiers calling for human rights for workers, while Germany and The Netherlands have done so too. Regrettably, the reality is that the most Scotland are likely to do is hold their own noses and follow suit.

Can the Tartan Army stomach that? They may just have to.