The World Cup has just begun and it’s already shaping up to be the wokest iteration of the world’s grandest sporting event in history. Twelve years ago, corrupt FIFA officials awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a Gulf state of less than three million people and about the size of Connecticut. In the intervening years, most of the criticism of this decision focused on the bribery scandal that engulfed FIFA and claims from human rights groups that some 6,000 migrant laborers died on the job during the frenzied construction of eight stadiums and other...
The World Cup has just begun and it’s already shaping up to be the wokest iteration of the world’s grandest sporting event in history. Twelve years ago, corrupt FIFA officials awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a Gulf state of less than three million people and about the size of Connecticut. In the intervening years, most of the criticism of this decision focused on the bribery scandal that engulfed FIFA and claims from human rights groups that some 6,000 migrant laborers died on the job during the frenzied construction of eight stadiums and other buildings for the tournament.
Attacks on the host country have broadened in recent days, focusing predominantly on Qatar’s laws criminalizing homosexuality. Embattled FIFA president Gianni Infantino, a straight man born in Switzerland, responded to the critiques, saying, “Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.”
This raises the question: will the left succeed in making this World Cup all about politics?
The US Men’s National Team (USMNT) made headlines by adopting a rainbow-themed logo at their training facility and hotel in Qatar. The team said it was part of their “Be the Change” initiative that was inaugurated in 2020 after George Floyd’s death. US Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told Reuters the team will use “rainbow branding to support and embrace the LGBTQ community.”
US coach Gregg Berhalter said at a press conference that “Qatar has made strides and a ton of progress” on social justice issues, but added, “there’s some work still to do.” Perhaps he also wants Qatar to sign onto other elements of our “Be the Change” movement, including gun control. In June, the USMNT sent a letter to members of the US Senate and House of Representatives imploring them to pass pending gun control legislation. “Our activism is borne out of necessity — we are talking about this issue because many of you refuse to take action,” it read.
England’s team also moonlights as social justice warriors. They flew to Qatar on a Virgin Atlantic Airbus called “Rain Bow” adorned with a cartoon figure in rainbow-themed sneakers. The English have been taking a knee prior to games since BLM popularized the gesture in 2020, and did so before thrashing Iran, 6-2, on Monday. Harry Kane, the team captain, promised to wear a “One Love” LGBT-themed armband along with several other captains of European teams. But the teams backed down when FIFA threatened them with red cards, issuing a joint statement explaining that they were willing to accept fines but not bookings for their activism.
England’s coach, Gareth Southgate, who is white, has said his team takes a knee to “educate people around the world,” and in 2020 demanded an end to white privilege. “We [white people] are the ones who have to be educated,” he explained.
The Danish side plans to wear all-black jerseys as a symbol of mourning for the laborers who died constructing World Cup stadiums. Canada’s soccer federation, for its part, announced a partnership with a gay rights group that will provide “LGBTQ2S+ training” for players, among other initiatives. Meanwhile, the Australian “socceroos,” as its team is called, released a video demanding rights for migrant workers in Qatar and the “decriminalization of same-sex relationships.”
FIFA released its own slacktivist social campaign campaigns, one for each round of the tournament, including #savetheplanet (round 2), #protectchildren (round 3), and #nodiscrimination (QF), among others. But they were panned by the media as too banal and not woke enough. In his defensive, 54-minute-long “I feel gay” news conference, Infantino insisted that Europeans were hypocrites for slamming Qatar. “I think what we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people,” he said.
Infantino claimed he knew what it was like to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child for having red hair and freckles. Then, just as things seemingly couldn’t get stranger, Bryan Swanson, FIFA’s director of media relations, took the microphone to defend Infantino and inform the press that he is gay. “I’m sitting here in a privileged position on a global stage as a gay man here in Qatar,” he said.
Qatar isn’t the first country with a dubious human rights record to host the World Cup. Benito Mussolini used the 1934 World Cup hosted by Italy to promote fascism. Argentina hosted, and won, the tournament in 1978, two years after General Jorge Rafael Videla took power in a coup. And Vladimir Putin’s Russia hosted four years ago. But the world wasn’t nearly as woke then as it is now and critiques of that event were mild compared to the withering denunciations Qatar now faces.
I wouldn’t vote to award the World Cup to Qatar or any country with a questionable human rights record. But the tournament is supposed to be a unifying event. Empty virtue-signaling and politicking are divisive. Qatar is one of sixty-nine UN countries that criminalize homosexuality. Yet some of the same people who love to attack the West are now demanding that people of color in Qatar embrace Western values, like tolerance for homosexuality, when it suits their agenda.
Perhaps the best outcome of having the World Cup in Qatar will be that it serves as a reminder for the left: despite their fears and rhetoric, America is a very tolerant and accepting place.