Next Story

FIFA World Cup 2022: It’s sports before politics, until it isn’t

There has been a lot of hue and cry about Qatar hosting this year’s edition of football’s premier competition

By Abdul Majid |
Design: Ibrahim Yahya
PUBLISHED November 27, 2022

They say the world of politics and sports should not intermingle. One should always be kept away from the other to maintain harmony. But if ‘they’ are the ones shaping and forging the narrative of the world, then ‘they’ are certainly displaying bigoted tendencies, when the world is in Qatar to celebrate one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

It has been 12 years since the World Cup hosting rights were awarded to Qatar, along with Russia for the 2018 World Cup, and since then the world has witnessed one of the biggest “propaganda” campaigns against the gas-rich Middle Eastern country.

Now, history is the best teacher in all cases, so only a historical view of why Qatar was and is still being touted as a pariah in the ‘modern world’ by ‘them’ can help us fathom the current wave of protests against the World Cup hosts.

Double standards

First and foremost, Qatar’s human rights record was brought into question when the World Cup hosting rights were awarded to the country. The comical side of accusations against Qatar was that no one ever dared to question the US about its human rights record when they awarded the same rights for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The unapologetic tone of the Western media – the ‘they’ mentioned before – when they praised the US, the co-hosts for the 2026 World Cup, was hypocritical to say the least.

No one dared to ask a single question regarding police violence against people of colour to the person in-charge of the bid when the US won the hosting rights along with Canada and Mexico. Also, not even one person discussed anything other than football, where instead they could’ve talked about the US invasions, cloaked as the ‘fights for democracy’. Not one.

The second accusation on Qatar was that they didn’t provide the migrant workers, who built mammoth structures for the World Cup, with enough safety through efficient legislation. Qatar came forward in this regard, apologized to the families of the workers who died during the building of infrastructure and promised viable and verifiable action. No one remembers the last time a country from the West came forward and apologized sincerely for the ‘3,000 years’ of injustices that they did. Not one.

Lastly, the question of Qatar not recognizing the LGBTQ community, since it is against Islam which translates to their culture at large, was raised. It is as simple to understand as the ‘burqa ban’ by the French government, but ‘they’ think that the former is wrong to formulate their own set of rules in their own country, while the latter can do whatever they want on the piece of land they call France. Not one person asked the 2018 World Cup winners a question about their views on the ‘burqa ban’, but everyone made sure they asked them if they’ll wear the ‘One Love’ armband to support the LGBTQ community. Such hypocrisy!


Bought or won?

The FIFA Executive Committtee, later converted into the FIFA Council, saw its downfall in 2015 when the US Department of Justice disclosed a 47-count, 164-page criminal indictment charging seven FIFA executives.

Later, the then FIFA president Sepp Blatter wasn’t caught in any case. However, he was later charged for corruption in another case and suspended from the football world governing body.

The FIFA corruption scandal opened the pandora’s box of how millions were paid to not one, but many to buy the hosting rights of the FIFA World Cup.

Qatar still denies that they paid anyone money, specifically bribe, to get the World Cup. FIFA also doesn’t admit that money was a factor in awarding the World Cup to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. However, the corruption charges and the whistleblower accounts are clear that no one World Cup has been hosted by a country without the use of illegal means or without an ulterior motive.

However, questioning only Qatar like they’re the country which started this trend is absolutely partial and imperfect observation. If Qatar is being questioned, then all the World Cups which happened before and all the World Cups which will happen afterwards should be put under the same microscope to check if there was foul play involved in awarding the hosting rights.

Political drama or football World Cup?

For 12 long years, Qatar has stood steadfast in its bid to successfully host one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world – the FIFA World Cup.

However, as the days to kick-off football’s marquee events came closer, the conversation kept nudging towards politics rather than the ‘beautiful game’.

Before the event, everything was wrong with and in Qatar as per the Western media. But FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s press conference, just a day before the World Cup kicked-off, was ballistic.

Infantino came out all guns blazing in front of hundreds of journalists, saying, “I’m European. For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”

Infantino, son of migrant workers from Italy, said Qatar has “made progress” in improving the rights of migrant workers, also blasting everyone for their “hypocrisy”.

“I came here six years ago and addressed the matter of migrant workers straight on, in my very first meeting. How many of these European or Western business companies, who earned millions and millions from Qatar and other countries in the region – billions every year – how many of them addressed the rights of migrant workers with the authorities? I have the answer for you. None of them,” the FIFA president said, adding “the one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy.”

He then took on the question of alcohol ban in stadiums in Qatar and gave everyone a lesson in history and geography.

““Every decision that is taken in this World Cup, it is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA. Every decision is discussed, debated and taken jointly. There will be, I don’t know how many, fan zones – eight, 10, big fan zones, over 200 places where you can buy alcohol. If for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive,” Infantino said, adding that “drinking inside football stadiums is banned in major European nations such as France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland.”

Lastly, he told everyone to focus on football rather than anything and everything else and for some time it did happen too.

The upset win by Saudi Arabia over Argentina brought football into the limelight. Messi’s team were considered one of the favourites to win the tournament as it was the talisman’s last World Cup, but they couldn’t fire at the right time and were off-side too often.

However, politics once again jumped in when a FIFA ban on wearing the ‘One Love’ armband saw US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blurt out scathing criticism.

“One of the most powerful things about football, about soccer, is potential to bring the world together,” Blinken told reporters in Doha, alongside top Qatari officials.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion. And in my judgment, at least, no one on the football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team,” Blinken added.

Germany found a new way to protest as they lined up for a team photograph with their mouths covered, showing that they were being silenced by the ban on the ‘One Love’ armband. However, after 90-plus minutes of play, they were seen covering their faces after a humiliating 2-1 defeat at the hands of a resurgent Japan. Germany went out of the 2018 World Cup in the group stages and they risk the same fate since they have to beat Spain and Costa Rica to enter the last 16.

Another political protest was seen by the Iranian footballers as they refused to sing the national anthem when they played their first game against England. They lost the match 6-2, but won the hearts of their people in Iran.

The big question!

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will conclude on December 18 with the final scheduled to take place at the Lusail Stadium. The 12-year journey of the host nation, from being awarded the rights to host the game’s biggest extravaganza to actually welcoming the world in their country, will be written in history with two colours.

Firstly, the West will say that Qatar used its riches to sportswash its image, same as they accuse Saudi Arabia. Even if Qatar pulls off one of the most organised World Cups in the history of football, their rhetoric will still not focus on what Qatar did, but on what Qatar should’ve done.

On the contrary, as the World Cup moves forward and the world sees an Islamic country welcoming all cultures, religions and orientations in a single place watching the most ‘beautiful game’ on the planet, the message sent across would be pretty clear – sports unites us all, let it do that instead of turning every sporting event into a political telenovela.