When FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia, and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in the same announcement, there was nobody on planet Earth who could look at it and say "yeah, that was done above board." FIFA is one of the most obviously corrupt organizations in the world, and they proved it by giving these two human-rights violating nations the opportunity to boost their economies and bring in massive amounts of tourism money.
The term you're looking for is "sportswashing" but you don't need to look up the definition, just follow the global coverage of the World Cup.
FIFA and Qatar Have Failed at Every Turn
Instead of talking about the game, in a press conference 24 hours before the first kickoff, FIFA President Gianni Infantino gave a wildly erratic speech defending Qatar and eviscerating the West for continuing to amplify criticism against the country's human rights record. He uttered the words "Today, I feel Qatari. Today, I feel Arab. Today, I feel African. Today, I feel gay. Today, I feel disabled. Today, I feel a migrant worker." I guess that was supposed to be a sign of unity? Of course the man in charge of such a corrupt organization is going to defend its decisions.
As I tried to put into words what to even say to that, I came across Melissa Reddy of Sky Sports. Her speech is a must watch.
Melissa Reddy, jornalista da Sky Sports, reage à conferência de imprensa do presidente da FIFA, Gianni Infantino.
Vale a pena ouvir.pic.twitter.com/NiPdeWbTWK
— B24 (@B24PT) November 19, 2022
FIFA is Doing a Poor Job at Controlling Any Narrative
Qatar is a nation that relies on migrant workers who get paid very little. It's a dry nation that waited until two days before opening kickoff to announce that alcohol will not be sold at any of the eight stadiums. They have a poor record of treatment for the LGBTQIA+ community. And they poured so much money into FIFA that they were able to bid on a summer World Cup, get awarded the cup, then lobby to move it to the winter. These things are all truly wild, and it's even more wild that we couldn't stop it from happening. Infantino mentioned a hope that the World Cup can provide a ceasefire in the war between Ukraine and Russia. But he's gaslighting all of us.
Critics of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar are coming from all angles and walks of life. It's been said that Qatar is hiring fake fans in order to make it look like there's excitement around the country for the games. Meanwhile competing nations are being told the equivalent of "shut up and dribble" by the very body that governs the game.
Denmark had full intention to support the One Love armband until FIFA said they would impose consequences on any player to wear it. Now Denmark is considering pulling out of FIFA. Eyes are on Iranian footballer Sardar Azmoun and his teammates, who have spoken out against the violence against Women in his home nation, yet was still selected to their World Cup squad. There is genuine fear about what will happen to them back home. And the German national team took the pitch and did their pregame photo covering their mouths, to indicate they are being silenced by FIFA.
This World Cup May Be a Reckoning
FIFA, and more specifically Infantino himself, is acting as if they are invincible. He's incoherently ranting in similar ways a recent former President of the United States used to because people are standing up to the inane decisions he's making. While he tries to say that Europe is a hypocrite for speaking against Qatar due to its own historical atrocities, he's simply saying it's okay for the world to exist the way it is and excuse the Qatari nation for its actions.
Fans, journalists, coaches, and players who otherwise love this game are facing a weird month. On many levels we should all be completely boycotting the World Cup. We shouldn't be buying tickets, watching on TV, or supporting FIFA and Qatar in any way. And yet, we're still going to the games, watching on TV and, thus, supporting FIFA and Qatar. It's a weird place to be.
But in a way there's a beauty in the fact that, despite being told to focus on the game by someone who didn't focus on the game, players and coaches are speaking out. Kasper Hjulmand, the Danish coach, wrote an eloquent piece in The Players' Tribune that centers around the love of the game, but the importance of culture to move society forward.
In 2015 the United Nations created 17 goals for sustainable development. I have a ball that shows all of them. Some examples:
All companies and organizations can use these 17 goals as clear guidelines -- a clear direction. I believe football must take the same direction -- and that includes the way we award major tournaments. Everyone will be talking about Qatar for the next few weeks, but after that there are more big decisions to be made. If we raise our voices loud and clear, we can create a movement that takes us towards the 17 goals. Remember that this is not politics -- it is much more fundamental.
As long as I'm here, I'll do everything to push this agenda.
I think the urge within the game to do this is strong. A lot of footballers are already doing great stuff without telling anyone. I see more and more players doing fantastic things. Still, I encourage you to sign up to Common Goal, because it unites us through what is probably the biggest social phenomena in the world. We are stronger when we do it together.
So, What Exactly Should we Expect?
FIFA issued a statement saying any player wearing a one love armband would be yellow carded. The Iranian National Team has been outspoken and didn't sing their national anthem in their opening match against England. We're likely going to see a push and pull between the "focus on football" mandate from FIFA and what these players actually believe in and what messages they're trying to push.
There's more at stake in Qatar than just a match results, and now we'll watch how each nation's team pushes those boundaries. And, of course, how FIFA reacts.
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