Wednesday, 23 November 2022 11:55

Qatar World Cup: The Ugly Face of The Beautiful Game

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Soccer elevates its divinities and exposes them to the vengeance of the believers. With the ball on his foot and the national colors on his chest, the player who embodies the nation marches off to win glory on far-off battlefields. - Eduardo Galeano
 
The swirling controversy surrounding the Qatar FIFA World Cup has given rise to that uniquely Western malaise otherwise known as rank hypocrisy. This was artfully pointed out by FIFA President Gianni Infantino at what turned out to be the extraordinary press conference he hosted on the eve of the tournament to respond to the cascade of criticism at it being hosted by a state where human rights only exist in the breach, where a literalist interpretation of Islam rules the roost, and where even the very words 'gay rights' are deemed blasphemous.
 
The sordid plight of Qatar's army of migrant workers was also raised — justifiably — at the same press conference, and here again Infantino pushed back with some well chosen barbs at the maltreatment of migrants and refugees in Europe, stating that the West is in no position to give moral lessons.
 
Infantino — who by the by is paid the modest sum of $3.2 million per year to make him more than qualfied to empathise with those suffering economic oppression — defended the decision to host this year's world cup in Qatar on the basis of 'engagement' rather than criticism and provocation on matters of human rights, citing this approach as FIFA's preferred modus operandi. He also described much of the criticism of Qatar and the questioning of its right to host the tournament as being rooted in racism.
 
Most bizarrely, the FIFA President proclaimed:
 
Today I feel Qatari, Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker... I know what it means to be discriminated against, to be bullied... because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian.
 
It was when he pointed to the West's long record of colonialism and imperialism as part of his response to media attacks against the tournament that you could almost hear the sound of bums squeaking on seats of the Western members of the world's press in attendance.
 
Infantino was right in alluding to the fact that if respect for human rights was the non-negotiable metric of a given country's suitability to host a world cup, there would be no world cup. Qatar, yes, is a place where medievalism jousts with modernity for supremacy, but how many countries has Qatar attacked, invaded, occupied and destroyed over the past few decades, leading to the slaughter and displacement and suffering of millions of human beings?
 
Step forward the US, UK, France when it comes to this particular malarkey, and step forward the racist self-regard and also disregard when it comes to your average Western ideologue's assessment of the worth of their own culture and lack thereof when it comes to others. If FIFA decided to base its decision to host the tournament on such issues and injustices, it would immediately cease to be a world body and instead join the architecture of soft power instruments of Western hegemony. Either the FIFA World Cup can be held anywhere or it can be held nowhere.
 
This implies no defence of Qatar. On this level at least, allow me to associate myself with the sentiments of one Steve Cockburn, who in his capacity as Amnesty International's Head of Economic and Social Justice responded to Infantino's comments thus:
Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war — they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to respect in its own statutes.
Taking a step back, Western conceptions of human rights are not actually yet universal, viewed instead as part of a culture war between east and west by ideologues on both sides. Homosexuality, which is every bit as natural and longstanding as heterosexuality in human affairs, is viewed in places like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as symptomatic of Western decadence and demonised accordingly. The same with women's rights and workers' rights in the latter three countries.
 
Though a global village the world may be economically, a global battlefield it remains on the level of cultural values. If the Qatar FIFA World Cup is illustrative of anything, it is that if football is to retain its standing and identity as the people's game, it cannot continue to acquiesce in the suffering and oppression of so many people and describe it as 'engagement'.
 
What football instead must do is come clean and acknowlege it as being merely the ugly face of the beautiful game.
Read 1104 times Last modified on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 12:18
John Wight

John Wight writes for the Morning Star.