Qatar's World Cup is shrouded in political controversies, and accountability has been made unnecessarily complex
‘VIP’ doesn’t hold the same weight it used to—at least, not when too many people are allowed the same level of luxury. After all, the title of VIP is less about quality of experience than it is about knowing your experience is superior to everyone else’s. In response to the shrinking exclusivity of the experience (without sacrificing the number of high-paying participants), Qatar’s World Cup introduced the VVIP experience, from which the VVVIP was subsequently born. And who’s to say there aren’t more tiers with more V’s that us P’s aren’t even I enough to know about?
This year’s World Cup has reportedly seen $800 million in hospitality seat sales (which doesn’t include those not-for-sale, reserved for sponsors, celebrities, foreign officials, and, apparently, Jared Kushner). While it’s unsurprising that sport is a profit-seeking industry, the immense potential for earnings that call for greeters dressed as golden antelopes, six-course meals equipped with personal sommeliers, and (for unclear reasons) on-site showers for elite guests call into question the morality of the institutions around the event. It’s no secret that soccer—which, at its core, is meant to elicit a type of camaraderie that transcends language, culture, and class—is fairly corrupt. (See: the slew of exposés that have just begun to break into the docuseries market.)
The making of the tournament in Qatar was distinctly evil, especially considering the unfathomable profits the institutions involved are earning. The lack of consideration for both the environment and human life is directly tied to the global institutions that enacted the event, but there are many names, beyond FIFA executives, who are directly profiting from the remaking of Qatar for this year’s World Cup (which resulted in more than 200,000 worker deaths). Couldn’t (especially big-name) players and (especially socio-politically advantaged) teams band together to take action? Why does sport require the sacrifice of civility?
But players, coaching staff, and soccer federations are largely void of any real responsibility, lauded for small (albeit meaningful) gestures, as with the US in their recent attempt at a show of support for Iranian women ahead of Tuesday’s game, when they posted an image of Iran’s flag to Twitter only bearing its colors, without its emblem. Iran called for the US to be removed from the tournament, interpreting the tweet as a hate crime, for its distortion of their flag. This isn’t the first time that the flag has been the center of such controversies—it was similarly altered in 2009 by pro-democracy advocates, in defiance of the Iranian government. Linked not just to politics, but also to religion, the Iranian flag in particular is a remarkably sensitive point of controversy. While the US team’s manager noted that neither he nor his players were involved with the post, he quickly pivoted away from politics, saying, “I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring by saying that, but the guys have worked really hard for the last four years.”
FIFA itself takes measures to prevent such political gestures, though actions of the sort have never been properly challenged, aside from Norway’s continued threats to start a new league entirely in protest of the organization’s extensive corruption. England and Wales almost wore armbands that read “One Love” on the field in Qatar, but they were threatened with yellow cards that could compromise their game—reiterating why openly queer soccer players are few and far between. It is illegal to be gay in Qatar, and even punishable by death in certain circumstances. Why, then, would FIFA choose to host their most treasured event there? The answer, allegedly, is a show of unity—the type of unity that values homophobic leaders over queer people.
The controversial value system that dictates Qatar is nothing new; the tournament prior was held in Russia, where one Black player advised his family not to attend out of fear for their safety, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino reportedly said he was open to hosting the next in North Korea—again, in an effort to “unite the world.”
The expectation for non-political public figures to use their cultural weight, massive platforms, and loads of cash to involve themselves in politics is a nuanced one. The balance between leveraging your power and overstepping into unqualified areas is delicate. (I, personally, would not care for Jack Grealish’s take on political policy in any form, but I wouldn’t mind players like him using their positions to help feed the machine, to prevent worker deaths in the stadiums they play in.) Athletes have immense influence, and broad-scale silence and side-stepping, compounded by the occasional gesture (that can easily be attributed elsewhere if poorly-received), unequivocally falls on the doing too little side of that spectrum, especially in regards to human rights violations from which they are directly profiting.