Billions watch the World Cup in Qatar, one of the world’s premier sports festivals. But soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has unleashed a political storm, with moral, business and geopolitical crises shaping the modern world.
So far, the tournament has been consumed more by off-field controversies than by the VAR video review system, which infuriates fans.
Controversies arose ahead of the opening game, with FIFA thwarting bids by European teams to support LGBTQ+ diversity, women’s rights, the treatment of migrant workers who built an air-conditioned stadium in the desert and the availability of alcohol in the Muslim country. The dramatics are that the sport, which presents itself as open to all, ignores human rights and political oppression in Qatar, taking part in a country with little cultural or historical connection to the beautiful game of its host oil wealth.
Now that the goals are flying in – including two for Saudi Arabia in their shock win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday – FIFA will be hoping that politics will take a sideshow, with spectators caught up in moral conflict as they watch their team. But the political subplot also risks a PR stunt.
And on Tuesday, soccer fan and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s criticism of a ban on LGBTQ+ players wearing OneLove armbands turned a spectacular sporting event into an international diplomatic row.
“One of the most powerful things about football is that football can bring the world together,” Blinken told reporters in Doha on Tuesday with senior Qatari officials.
It’s always a concern in my view when we see restrictions on freedom of expression. Especially when the expression is for diversity and inclusion. “And in my opinion, at least, no one should have to choose between upholding these values on the football field and playing for their team,” Blinken said.
Briana Scurry, a retired World Cup-winning goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s national team, told CNN’s “Newsroom” Tuesday that FIFA’s selection for the World Cup has brought a political storm.
“When you choose the country, you choose the outcome,” she said.
Any World Cup – which is expected to draw a large part of the world’s population to watch the final game in December – is bound to see the social and political zeitgeist.
For example, Iran’s players refused to sing their national anthem during their opening match against England on Monday.
But the rift sparked by this particular tournament, exacerbated by questionable PR responses from global soccer leaders, lends greater significance to geopolitical trends shaking old global power centers at a time when the Western-led liberal order is under unprecedented challenge.
The Qatar World Cup is the clearest demonstration yet of how the Gulf’s wealthiest oil and gas giants have used their trillions of dollars to establish themselves among the world’s superpowers and build tourism, entertainment and sporting legacies. To sustain them when carbon energy reserves are depleted. It also shows how they are prepared to ignore liberal values to get there.
The competition will test the eagerness of Western institutions – sports teams and leagues, cultural institutions and businesses – to capture a share of the influx of money from the Middle East, even as it threatens their values.
This shows a global shift of power and especially financial muscle – from the capitals of Western Europe to new centers in the Middle East, India and China. And football is making a big difference with its huge international appeal. Traditional working-class football clubs that had been tied to their communities for decades suddenly found themselves owned by foreign power magnets. Premier League giants Manchester City have been bought by a group led by the United Arab Emirates. And Newcastle United’s ownership by a Saudi Arabian-led consortium forces fans to consider (they don’t) their support for their hometown clubs.
Soccer is not the only sport to change as a result of this global power shift. Hundreds of millions of viewers in India have shifted the balance of power of the sport away from England and Australia for the fast and furious IPL cricket league. Formula One, which competes in soccer’s global footprint, now sends 200 mph racers to various Middle Eastern circuits. And Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund is trying to regain control of the prestigious PGA Tour in America after taking on golf stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with huge pay incentives.
The phenomenon is known as “sportswashing”, and a dictatorial country keen to boost its image despite widespread criticism of its political system and human rights record entertains the world’s top sports stars. China has been accused of this agenda at the 2008 and 2022 Summer and Winter Olympics, where attempts at political activism have been stifled under the repressive regime.
This World Cup, like other recent international fan events, is forcing fans to think beyond the final score.
Allegations of corruption in awarding the tournament to Qatar in 2018 and the former host of Russia 2018 have long sidelined FIFA. In the year In 2020, the US Department of Justice alleged that bribes were accepted by international soccer officials ahead of a vote to allocate the two events. Russian and Qatari officials have strongly denied the allegations. Last year, the DOJ concluded its six-year investigation into soccer corruption and awarded $201 million to FIFA and the sport’s other international regulators, who were victims of decades of bribery schemes.
But fresh controversies have dogged Qatar 2022 and left FIFA with even more embarrassing questions.
It includes the plight of the migrant workers who built the stadiums. For example, Human Rights Watch reported abuses against South Asian workers in Qatar during the opening of the World Cup. “Construction of FIFA World Cup-related facilities continues despite overcrowding and high risk of COVID-19 transmission,” the State Department said in a recent human rights report citing illegal forced labor in Qatar. In the year CNN has not independently confirmed earlier reports that thousands of migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the 2010 World Cup.
Meanwhile, the kerfuffle over European captains’ attempts to promote LGTBQ+ issues epitomizes the daily cultural and religious clashes between Western and conservative developing nations and developed societies at this World Cup. Beliefs and religions.
England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales plan to join the “OneLove” campaign. However, their governing body, FIFA, has threatened the players with unsportsmanlike conduct by threatening them with yellow cards, which could result in them being sent off if they receive a second yellow card for a foul in the game.
There is a question here as to how far visiting fans should respect local traditions that violate their own values and freedoms. But this is also about discrimination. And in a surprise news conference before the first match, FIFA president Gianni Infantino accused the former Western powers of hypocrisy and there were suspicions that FIFA was once again under pressure from the Qatari government.
“I feel like Qatar today. I feel Arab today. I feel African today. Today I feel gay. I feel disabled today. I felt like a migrant worker today,” Infantino said.
Qatar, where homosexuality is banned, has denied allegations that Armata is behind the ban. “Everything that happens on the pitch is FIFA’s business,” Qatari organizers spokeswoman Fatima Al Nuaimi told CNN’s Becky Anderson.
However, underscoring the selective nature of political protests at sporting events, England captain Harry Kane, who did not wear an armband, joined his teammates in protesting racism before the match.
It is nothing new for a global sporting event to become politically charged. For example, the American athlete Jesse Owens rejected what Adolf Hitler said at the 1936 Berlin Olympics during the Nazi Masters tournament. In the year At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, American track stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos performed a civil rights Black Power salute from the medal stand. Muhammad Ali was a racial and political icon as well as a boxer. And in the year
Today’s athletes, with their own brands, are increasingly open to reason in ways that challenge their sport’s governing authorities. For example, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem to protest police brutality against blacks during the 2016 season ignited a global sports and political movement. But the protest also angered NFL owners who despise player submissions. And Kaepernick’s stay away from the league calls into question the sincerity of the sport’s anti-racism campaigns. The NFL has been drawn into a conflict between its many black players and some of its conservative fans, which former President Donald Trump has used to drag him into the culture war.
Other leagues, such as the NBA, openly support players’ political expression. But it’s a thin line. Basketball has also faced criticism for its lucrative trade ties with China, a country known for its repression.
The sense that athletes can be held to a higher moral standard than their governments is key to golf’s current conflict. Critics have slammed senior officials for taking money from Saudi Arabia. Its citizens accounted for 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001. Production to alleviate high fuel prices.
The next World Cup could see more political activity as it will be held in the US, Canada and Mexico.
The competition shows how another world has changed. Although football The 1994 US-hosted World Cup struggled to make the cultural leap into a dominant American pro sport, despite a large youth turnout. But the race also highlights his stance on America’s immigrant and diaspora communities, an increasingly important political demographic in the country.
Ever since the sport became global, it has always reflected social, cultural and religious trends and conflicts – despite calls from politicians to remain apolitical. So when the football circus reaches the regional level in 2026, it’s a good bet that some new controversy off the field will compete with the point for attention.