Must we mix sport and politics at the Football World Cup?

We were told that sixteen of Iran’s 25 Football squad, play for foreign clubs and so it is more or less impractical to enforce rigid rules unless for security reasons.

2 mins read
The Al-Rayyan stadium is pictured in this artists impression as Qatar 2022 World Cup bid unveils it's stadiums on September 16, 2010 in Doha, Qatar. [Photo by Qatar 2022 via Getty Images]

The belief in the power of football to make positive contribution to progressive and sustainable change in the world was met with opposition before the start of the tournament in Doha, Qatar.

FIFA President, Gianni Infantino wrote to the chiefs of 32 competing teams, demanding them to focus their time at Qatar to focus only on football. There was nothing wrong with this.

But each of the competing Football Associations felt it was tantamount to giving them a lesson how to play the game. It was considered as fighting talk, an intrusion.

The teams instead opted to send a reminder that neither FIFA nor the hosts, Qatar should declare war on the national teams.

Last month, (November 2022) the findings of a new research study led by Dr. Adam Scharif of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, found that international sporting events tend to trigger unwarranted repression, when host nations that were autocracies, some even dictatorships, used the different games as a way of persecution of their political opponents.

Anti-discrimination rainbow coloured “# One Love” arm-bands worn by thecaptains of teams was banned, with severe penalties – Yellow and Red Cards. England and Welsh Captains at the last minute had to change their bands before their matches on 21 November 2022. This made a large proportion of their fans feel very uncomfortable.

Besides, a former England football manager, Harry Redknapp told a news agency on the controversy surrounding Qatar, hosting the World Cup. We know the host country has strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws. “How they got it in the first place I don’t really know. But they got it, it’s there, we’ve gotto get on with it now”.

David Seaman, former England Goalkeeper also shared his thoughts stating; “Football is for everyone and not everyone can go there to watch the games.”

Both of them were in full praise for England’s squad. “I think we’ve got a fantastic group of players,” said Harry, which was echoed by David.

The bravery of the England’s Three Lions team kicked off their World Cup game with a historic 6-2 win, but it was opponents Iran who won the praise for their courageous protests over human rights violations, by risking their safety at home, by refusing to sing the national anthem, but fans booed them or made thumbs down signs. Female supporters were also seen with placards, “Women, Life, Freedom,” they had smuggled into the Khalifa Stadium in Doha to protest at the crackdown on women refusing to wear the hijab.

FIFA according to some fans have acted to brush criticism of human rights under the carpet.

Can FIFA or anybody stop protests?

The more you stop wearing of rainbow arm bands, and the hijab, or placards, the more it is counterproductive according to someobservers.

Harry Kane, England’s captain had to wear a FIFA-approved “No Discrimination” armband.

But, it did not stop Manager, Gareth Southgate’s men “taking the knee” before kick off in a symbolic gesture against racism.

Wales in their drawn game (1-1) against United States, on 21 November 2022, were also among seven European teams hoping to wear the “OneLove” armband in a country which outlaws same sex relationships. Through their Federations stated they would have paid the fines but “could not allow their players in a situation where they may be booked or even forced to leave the field.”

In addition, we were told that sixteen of Iran’s 25 Football squad, play for foreign clubs and so it is more or less impractical to enforce rigid rules unless for security reasons.

Alcohol sales are banned at all World Cup stadiums in Qatar, but that did not stop fans “rocking up” at their hotels, with wild parties.

Who is behind all these “antics” is anybody’s guess? Do they “act their age” or “is it human nature to rebel?

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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