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Qatar 2022 - The World Cup of Voice

Teams have found a way around FIFA's 'guidelines' to express their support.

Published
Football
5 min read
Qatar 2022 - The World Cup of Voice
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Qatar might host the FIFA World Cup, but the stage belongs to the world.

Even though the hosts only played Ecuador last Sunday in the opening match, the World Cup action began a fortnight earlier. 'All Out', a movement for equality painted the street across the FIFA Museum in rainbow colours. As same-sex couples kissed each other on that distant street in Switzerland, Qatar felt their love-filled tremors.

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Members of 'All Out' and their supports staged a protest outside the FIFA museum. 

(Photo: Twitter/AllOut)

Political statement through the platform of sport isn’t a modern phenomenon. Jesse Owens stole plenty of Nazi thunder by owning the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Muhammad Ali refused to enlist in the army in 1967. A year later, Tommie Smith and John Carlos shared a pair of gloves as they stood on the Olympic podium after finishing first and third, respectively. Africa stayed clear of the 1966 Football World Cup, protesting racial bias and inequality in qualification structures.

Qatar is now the stage for a political kerfuffle on and off the pitch.

Nerves remain on edge across the rich oil-laden country, as FIFA stands firmly by the host. The captains of England, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Wales promised to wear the One Love rainbow armband. But the organisers moved in swiftly, pushing FIFA to threaten action.

“As national federations, we can’t let our players face sporting sanctions, including bookings, so we have asked our captains not to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games,” said a joint statement from the Europeans.

Protests continue, even though they seem muted. In their opening match against Japan on Wednesday, the Germans lined up for the team picture with their hands covering their mouths. “Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position,” tweeted the DFB. The Denmark team suggested that it is evaluating a potential withdrawal if Qatar continues to stifle voices.

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The Iranian players made a bold political statement on Monday. They stood in mute silence as their national anthem rang through the stadium. The players were standing united against an oppressive regime in Tehran, facing months of protest from its citizens over freedom of expression, especially for women. It was a poignant reminder of the power of sport and its ability to offer a platform for a political statement.

The World Cup has already produced some sensational action. Saudi Arabia sent shockwaves with a 2-1 upset over Argentina. Japan added some wasabi to the opening round action with a stunning 2-1 victory over Germany. And the Canadians, making just a second appearance at this grand stage, stretched Belgium to the edges before losing 0-1.

Unfortunately, football is a distant second as fans and followers continue to be appalled by the heavy-handed behaviour of the organisers backed by FIFA on the pitch and the police on the streets.

FIFA was forced to apologise to Grant Wahl when the American journalist was detained briefly before being allowed to enter the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday. His crime – wearing a black t-shirt with large rainbow circles around a football.

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As it is, the World Cup in Qatar has been in the shade for many reasons other than football. From the way Qatar won the hosting rights through the force of money to its human rights record against migrant workers and sexual oppression, sweeping concerns hang like a dark cloud over this important event.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of workers have lost their lives building for the Qatar World Cup. The unbearable desert temperatures and inhumane working conditions have cost several families their loved ones, and lone breadwinners.

The grim working conditions of migrant labourers slaving under the scorching sun lay in stark contrast with the glitzy air-conditioned stadia they make through despondent labour. According to some estimates, Qatar has spent $220bn on the World Cup since winning the bid in 2010. For context, Russia reported spending approximately $15bn for the 2018 World Cup.

Corruption and coercion may not be illegal on the Arabian Peninsula, but homosexuality is criminal. Offenders face a sentence of at least seven years for any display of homosexual acts and could face the death penalty in many instances. It should deeply concern us that the world watches mutely as Qataris dictate terms to a global audience and all the dancing stars.

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The other side of this coin is commercial indulgence. The Middle East is unleashing a tidal wave of cash to extract social standing forcefully. With trillions of oil money in their hands, they have chosen sport and aviation as their gateway to power in a constantly shifting global power structure. Qatar isn’t alone in that sense.

Dubai is an important centre for cricket, tennis, and golf. The IPL in India has snatched power out of the hands of England and Australia. The Saudis seek to change the world order of golf, pouring billions of dollars into LIV Golf. Arabian money has long funded top-tier football in the traditionally Eurocentric leagues in England, France, Italy, and Spain. The Formula One season begins (in Bahrain) and ends (in Abu Dhabi) in the desert. The list goes on and on.

While such a regional thrust for socio-economic relevance can be understood in politics, it is much harder to fathom the silence of the brands.

The promise of revenues, especially during the holiday season, seems to have bought the silence of the mega sponsors. Adidas expects to rake in over $400mn due to its association with the FIFA World Cup. Budweiser promised to ship an entire warehouse full of beer to the winning country. In their tweet on 19 November, they ask, “Who will get them?”

McDonald’s has launched a campaign with Ted Lasso designed explicitly for the World Cup audience. Louis Vuitton got Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to pose with a chessboard foisted on its famed trunks.

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Brew Dog has drawn up an anti-sponsor campaign, promising to donate their profits from World Cup sales to human rights causes. But they aren’t an official sponsor of the event, so they can freely express their voice, perhaps even gain from doing so.

The stoic silence of the official sponsors should bring us dismay and horror. Perhaps, that it does not should tell us a story.

Money cannot wash away all the dirty laundry. Sports can heal and unite people. It can also hold a mirror to the cracks and expose the fragility of that union. The tempest in the desert reflects the dichotomy that continues to haunt humanity. Even though the species pretends to evolve, powered by science and technology, we remain uncomfortably bound in imaginary knots. Qatar is a gigantic mirror showing us the ugly faces of our convenient morality and an injudicious lust for control.

Buying the beer might earn you some company for the night, but you do not always wake up with a friend by your side. Money does not spin the planet, but it can leave us humans bending over and rolling under. The Earth might still be turning to a magnetic field, but the Qatar World Cup is another example for us to learn that the moral compass is long defunct.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  2022 FIFA World Cup 

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