Football, Money, and Sportswashing: When the World Doesn't Buy In

Football brings the world together. The World Cup, in particular, has the power to bring people together like nothing else. There are those who would take advantage of this, using football to gain money, power, or political advantage. Everyone from FIFA to political figures or entire countries have notoriously sought to use the World Cup to clean up their image after scandals and corruption, something coined as sportswashing. Usually, the power of football on the global stage makes people forget. But what would happen if the world didn't buy in? This year, FIFA and Qatar are finding out.

The world said a resounding no. Qatar says this stadium is filled beyond capacity.

FIFA were under suspicion of corruption even before their Executive Committee voted to award Russia the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 World Cup all in the same day back in 2010. A committee comprised of 22 men made these decisions in secrecy after having been wined and dined ahead of the announcement. Unprecedented personal payments and favors to countries and federations from Qatar in particular followed the announcement. 

Then came the United States' Department of Justice investigation and subsequent indictments, arrests, trials, and consequences for many high ranking officials within the FIFA organization. Sepp Blatter notoriously stepped down before he could be ripped out of office. He was, however, subsequently banned from football for FIFA Code of Ethics violations – twice, along with Michel Platini, a ban they are still serving through 2027.

Blatter's regime destroyed the world's confidence in FIFA

FIFA awarding Russia the 2018 World Cup over England was a surprise, because England already had the infrastructure in place to host ,and had put together a stronger bid, with more vocal support from FIFA representatives. But those representatives were clearly not the ones voting. Those who were voting did not see through Russia's true motives to potentially use the World Cup as a propaganda machine for Vladimir Putin, or did not care. 

Putin has since notoriously waged an unprovoked war on neighboring Ukraine. Did he misconstrue the support of a football tournament for the world's support of his regime? That is a difficult question to answer. But the facts are that he and Russia were glorified by FIFA and the world in 2018, and four years later, he committed unprecedented acts against Ukraine. At the very least, you could claim he used Russia 2018 as a propaganda machine.

FIFA President Infantino with Putin at World Cup 2018

Even as Russia began to prepare for the World Cup, overt hostilities by his government toward those of the LGBTQIA+ community led FIFA to develop a minimum human rights standard for those who host FIFA tournaments to provide for their safety. It was a standard that would be completely ignored for the following World Cup. There was much controversy surrounding the discrimination of LGBTQIA+ individuals for Russia 2018, but by the end of the tournament, it was largely considered a relatively successful World Cup. Sportswashing had worked, for the most part.

Qatar was different, however. Bids for the 2022 World Cup had been submitted by the USA, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. All of these countries were larger, with better infrastructure, and more footballing knowledge and heritage than Qatar. The tiny Middle Eastern nation was not even a dark horse, let alone an underdog to win the bid. There was complete shock and dismay on behalf of everyone in the room at the announcement in 2010, except for the Qatari delegation and those members of the FIFA Executive Committee whose votes had been bought.

How much does a FIFA Executive Committee vote cost?

It became quite evident that no one on the committee had considered the weather or working conditions in Qatar, the complete lack of infrastructure, or where a country would even put teams from 32 different nations, let alone the fans, in such a tiny country. The world was much quicker to question. When FIFA voted to change the World Cup from summer to winter to accommodate Qatar's extreme weather, the world did not agree.

When reports leaked that they were abusing migrant workers, underpaying them or not paying them at all for months on end, not allowing them any time off, keeping them and forcing them to work under unacceptable conditions, the world also questioned. Not only questioned, but protested. FIFA and Qatar had a huge problem on their hands, and it was only growing bigger.

Infantino had an easy out with Qatar when he was elected FIFA president, but he did not take it

FIFA had a chance to make things right. When the scandals broke in 2015 and Blatter stepped down, the opportunity to atone and reassign the World Cup 2022 to a country that had the infrastructure to pull it off in a shorter period of time was available. But they did not take this opportunity. They doubled down on a horrible decision that was made by people who were now in jail. The world was not happy.

As Qatar 2022 loomed closer, protests grew louder. Players and national teams protested. Qatar claimed they had reformed working conditions for migrant workers, yet reports continued to be leaked that conditions were still unacceptable. The accurate number of deaths of workers may not ever be known, because Qatar seems to have a huge problem with accuracy of reporting data of any kind. But that has not stopped the world from dismissing Qatar and this World Cup for this and so many other reasons.

The world never bought into FIFA or Qatar

Hosting the World Cup is supposed to be about welcoming the world into your country, showing them hospitality, and making them want to be there. Ideally, they would recommend your country to friends and want to come back. At the very least, they would speak highly of their visit, and it would put your country on the map. Or, if your country has a negative image, you could use the World Cup as a propaganda machine or sportswashing. 

Qatar has missed all of these memos. They assumed that fans could be bought in the same way their bid was purchased, I guess. Only they needed the fans to buy into their World Cup to reimburse them for the more than $200 billion they spent to build stadiums and infrastructure they will never need for their embarrassing football team after the handful of fans that did brave their harsh event quickly leave. Instead, they have "welcomed" the world with hostility, bigotry, and an attitude of entitled tyranny. Even Putin did better in 2018.

Al-Janoub stadium, capacity 40,000, but for the World Cup, attendance always exceeds 41,000
(just no women, LGBTQIA+ people, rainbows, or beer)

They have demanded respect for their culture without an ounce of tolerance for anyone else's. For some reason, it never occurred to them that their "culture" and what they are expecting of fans violates many of the basic human rights listed in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How do you get the world to buy into your country's event when your country's expectations are still centuries behind buying into the human race? 

There will be no sportswashing for Qatar. Perhaps if they had played kindly hosts instead of offended tyrants, fans could have forgotten that they had bribed FIFA and governments, abused migrant workers for years, denied their deaths and all wrongdoings, as well as their lack of basic human rights afforded to women and LGBTQIA+ persons. Or that they forced a schedule change, upending not only the footballing schedule, but increasing injuries to players because of the impact of that schedule. Okay, I doubt the world could have overlooked those things.

Qatar's ambassador Khalid Salman said some horrific things just ahead of the tournament

But both FIFA and Qatar telling fans to shut up and take it does not sit well with fans. Especially after enduring all of that for the past 12 years since 22 men sat in a room and checked their offshore bank accounts before awarding the sacred World Cup to a country that was not only not deserving, but would go on to behave worse than any other country before them. The world has been telling you all along that we did not want your World Cup, Qatar, but you did not hear us.

Football fans may not be known for high IQ levels, but telling us what we can and cannot wear during our sacred worship of our teams is not okay. As the final straw, you forced fans to watch Qatar's football team play while sober. The decision to not serve alcohol in or around the stadiums to the peasants during matches is something fans who spent a fortune traveling to your hostile little desert nation will never forget. Football is sacred, but life is even more sacred. And only alcohol can blur any deficits in either of those areas.

Hell hath no fury like Ecuadorian fans denied their beer

Money does not buy everything. Football does not make everything okay. Sportswashing does not cover a complete disdain for other people in the human race. You were foolish enough to think that aligning yourself with FIFA was enough, but the world has had enough of FIFA. Their own nations are suing them. This is what happens when the world doesn't buy in.


This post inspired by the music of John Lennon's "Imagine"

Football, Money, and Sportswashing: When the World Doesn't Buy In Football, Money, and Sportswashing: When the World Doesn't Buy In Reviewed by Elaine on 2:00 AM Rating: 5
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