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(Analysis) How World Cup Politics Explains the Modern World


Billions of people watch the World Cup in Qatar and are immersed in one of the world’s greatest sporting festivals. But football’s governing body, FIFA, has also created a political storm that highlights the moral, business and geopolitical dilemmas that shape the modern world.

So far, the tournament has been consumed by more controversy off the field than caused by the shaky VAR video review system that infuriates fans.

FIFA blocks bid by European teams to support LGBTQ+ diversity, women’s rights, treatment of migrant workers building air-conditioned stadiums in the desert, and alcohol availability in Muslim countries In a country with few cultural or historical ties to the beautiful sport, the drama is set in motion for everyone to enjoy because of their share of the host’s oil wealth. It revived allegations that open sports ignored Qatar’s human rights and political repression.

Now that goals have started flying, including two Saudi Arabia goals in Lionel Messi’s shocking victory over Argentina on Tuesday, FIFA is morally opposed to seeing the team in such conditions. Even among those who want politics to turn into a sideshow, political subplots also risk a PR debacle.

Also, criticism from football fan and US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken for Tuesday’s ban on players wearing the LGBTQ+ OneLove armband turned the sporting spectacle into an international diplomatic debate.

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

“It always worries me when I see freedom of expression restricted, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. You shouldn’t have to choose between upholding values ​​or playing for a team,” Brinken said.

Briana Scully, the former World Cup-winning goalkeeper for the US women’s national team, told CNN’s “Newsroom” on Tuesday that FIFA has created this political storm in its choice of host for the World Cup.

“When you choose a country, you choose an outcome,” she said.

Any World Cup expected to draw a large portion of the world’s population to watch the final game in December will undoubtedly capitalize on the social and political zeitgeist.

For example, Iranian players refused to sing the national anthem during Monday’s opening match against England. This could be a protest against the violent suppression of dissent that rocks the Islamic Republic.

But the discord wrought by this particular tournament has been exacerbated by the questionable PR responses of world football chiefs, and the old world’s resurgence at a time when the Western-led liberal order is facing unprecedented challenges. It offers a prism of the geopolitical trends that are shaking the centers of power.

A police officer folds his arms to prevent fans from entering the Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park in Doha, Qatar, November 20, 2022.

The Qatar World Cup will explore how and what a small group of the Gulf’s ultra-rich oil and gas giants will do to gain a foothold among the world’s most powerful nations and create a legacy of tourism, entertainment and sports. The most obvious example of how to spend a trillion dollars. To sustain their carbon energy reserves when they are depleted. It also shows a readiness to ignore liberal values ​​in order to get there.

The tournament is a test case for the ambition of Western institutions (sports teams and leagues, cultural institutions, corporations) to capture large amounts of cash from the Middle East, even though their value may be threatened.

This reflects a global shift in power, especially financial power, from Western European capitals to new epicenters in the Middle East, India and China. And football, which has great global appeal, has been hit hard. A traditional working-class football club that has been embedded in the community for decades suddenly finds itself owned by a foreign energy powerhouse. Premier League giants Manchester City have been bought by a UAE-led group. And Newcastle United are owned by a Saudi-led consortium, forcing fans to consider (or not consider) the ethical aspects of supporting their local club.

Football isn’t the only sport being transformed by this global power shift. Hundreds of millions of viewers in India for the fast-paced IPL Cricket League have shifted the balance of power in the sport away from England and Australia. A formula that rivals football’s international footprint, his one now sends 200 mph racers to multiple Middle East circuits. And Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is looking to overthrow its dominance of the venerable PGA Tour in the US after acquiring golf stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with huge incentives.

This phenomenon is known as “sports washing”. A dictatorship woos the world’s top sports stars in an attempt to improve its image despite serious criticism of its political system and human rights performance. China has been accused of such issues at the 2008 and 2022 Summer and Winter Olympics. Attempts at political activism have largely failed under its repressive rule.

This World Cup, like many major international supporting events these days, leaves fans thinking about more than the final score.

Allegations of corruption in awarding the tournament to Qatar and its predecessor Russia in 2018 have long plagued FIFA. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that top soccer officials in the world were bribed ahead of a vote to allocate the two events.Russian and Qatari officials have strongly denied the allegations. Last year, the DOJ ended his six-year investigation into football corruption by paying FIFA and other global regulators of the sport $201 million, ending decades of bribery. said he was a victim of a scheme.

But a new controversy threw Qatar 2022 into turmoil, leaving FIFA to face more thorny issues.

They include the plight of the migrant workers who built the stadium. For example, Human Rights Watch highlighted human rights abuses among South Asian workers in Qatar as the World Cup kicked off. In its latest human rights report, the State Department noted ongoing illegal forced labor in Qatar, stating: “Despite crowded workplaces and high risk of COVID-19 transmission, construction of FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued. ” he pointed out. CNN has not independently confirmed previous reports that thousands of migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded her 2010 World Cup.

Meanwhile, the uproar surrounding the European nation’s captain’s attempt to promote LGTBQ+ issues is a classic example of the cultural and religious clashes at this World Cup, with the rift between Western nations and conservative developing nations. and deployed daily in developed societies, including many immigrant communities and diverse societies. creed and religion.

England, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales were to participate in the ‘OneLove’ campaign. However, their governing association has accused FIFA of threatening sporting sanctions against players, including a possible yellow card if they receive a second yellow card for a foul in a match. did.

There is the question of the extent to which visiting fans should respect local traditions that infringe on their values ​​and freedoms. But this is also discrimination. Also, FIFA once again bowed to pressure from the Qatari government after a bizarre pre-match press conference by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who accused the former colonial Western powers of hypocrisy. I had a suspicion.

“Today I feel Qatar. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker.” Fantino said.

Qatar, which bans homosexuality, has dismissed claims that homosexuality is behind the armband ban. A spokesperson for Qatari organizer Fatma Al Nuaimi told CNN’s Becky Anderson, “Everything that happens on the pitch is FIFA’s problem.”

However, highlighting the selective nature of political protests at sporting events, England skipper Harry Kane, who was not wearing an armband, told his teammates in the stands against racism before kick-off. I joined and got down on my knees.

Global sporting events playing out in a political atmosphere is nothing new. For example, US athlete Jesse Owens, in his performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, denied Adolf Hitler’s alleged Nazi mastery of his race. At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, U.S. track stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos promoted civil rights by giving Black his power salute from the podium. Muhammad Ali was a racial and political icon as well as a boxing icon. And Moscow in 1980 and his 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were hit by boycotts related to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Modern athletes, a brand in itself, seem to be increasingly open to causes in ways that challenge the governing authorities of the sport. For example, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked global sports and political movements when he refused to stand for the national anthem during the 2016 season to protest police brutality against black men. I put on But the protests also drew anger from NFL owners who downplayed the players’ disobedience. And the fact that Kaepernick has been out of the league for so long calls into question the integrity of the sport’s anti-racism campaign. I found myself being dragged into a potential conflict between This is a fact that former President Donald Trump exploited by dragging it into the culture wars.

Other leagues, such as the NBA, have more openly supported the political representation of their players. But it’s a fine line. Basketball has also faced criticism for its lucrative business ties with China, which, like Qatar, is known for its repression.

The feeling that athletes may be held to higher moral standards than governments is also key to the current golf feud. Critics have accused the top pro of robbing Saudi Arabia of cash with 15 of his 19 September 11, 2001 hijackers. production to mitigate high gasoline prices.

The next World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, so there could be even more political action.

This tournament also shows another way the world has changed. Soccer has struggled to make the cultural leap to becoming a major professional sport in the United States, despite high youth participation, despite the World Cup held in the United States in 1994. But the tournament highlights the influence of immigrant and diaspora communities in the United States. This is an increasingly important political demographic in this country.

Ever since sport became globalized, it has always reflected social, cultural and religious trends and conflicts. Despite calls from purists to remain a safe haven from politics. So when the football circus comes to the American mainland in 2026, new controversies off the field are sure to compete with the score for attention.

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