It is a lot to take in. The amount of controversy, corruption, scandal, BS rhetoric, mistreatment (the list goes on) coming out of the Qatar-hosted 2022 Men’s FIFA World Cup is nauseating. It is to the point of if you aren’t watching the news and social media (thank goodness for social media in times like this) almost hourly, you will miss something.
The latest as of this writing includes apparent evidence of bribery impacting the outcome of Qatar’s day one match v Ecuador played today (which could just be posturing by another country, who knows…) and FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s press conference.
Exceptional effort from Gianni Infantino to see how many absurd, harmful, misleading, unhinged and downright disrespectful things he can fit into one address.— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) November 19, 2022
See Twitter and other platforms for abundant “high”lights.
If you need context, a rundown of the main issues surrounding the Qatar’s hosting, see Vox and Ian Ward’s article All the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup controversies, explained - Vox.
After having the idea for this article and then doing some research, I came upon an article from San Francisco Chronicle writer Ann Killion titled “Qatar World Cup is insane, evil and corrupt, so what’s a soccer fan to do?” It is behind the paywall for me, at least, but it implies what I would like to discuss. But I’d like to go beyond: What is a person to do?
There is great challenge in the chore. How to not be cliché? How to not sound “preachy”? Those in power in Qatar do not seem to care so much about such matters, so screw it, right? No. But here is my stab at it.
I believe in the human spirit. I long to see it expressed. The fight to remain who we are, to become what we want to be, to triumph, despite the enormous amount of dung around us, is to be human.
The human spirit should be showcased. And that is what sports do best. The FIFA World Cup is one of sports’ most encompassing events, certainly its most passionate. Of course, that is one reason Qatari leaders brought the tournament to their country. They have fulfilled their mission. They have triumphed. In doing so, they have provided a platform for the human spirit to shine. It is up to us what we allow to sparkle the brightest.
The FOX Broadcasting Company (English) and Telemundo (Spanish) paid a combined total of $1 billion plus to broadcast FIFA events from 2015-2022 in the United States back in 2011. I am trusting that FOX and Telemundo are working diligently to bring human-interest stories and the relevant controversies to light during their broadcasts of the month-long World Cup. And if so, they are likely having to be sly about it. Our part is to push them towards that end with our encouraging and demanding direct messages and social media expressions, viewing habits, and our clicks on their social media platforms. Ultimately, how these networks handle the stories before them should influence where our subscription dollars and attention go in the future.
Certainly, you (likely a soccer fan if you are reading this) may choose to not watch a minute of the matches or related broadcasts out of indifference or protest, or you may choose to watch with one eye closed. But, dare I say, tuning out the FIFA Men’s World Cup would be missing opportunities.
The setting will provide an increased arena for moments of indelible and effectual human expression. Qatari and FIFA officials may be able to muffle individual expression by trying dictate masks worn by media and captains’ armbands worn by players, but human expression will be on full display. The players and the fans will make sure of that. As Thad Bell’s related article above mentions, history is filled with fight back from athletes.
Beyond blatant fight back are triumphs large and small. Each player on each of the 32 teams has faced obstacles, has faced defeat in making it to the world’s most popular sporting event. But they made it, each one. What are the odds of 1) Being chosen to your nation’s World Cup team and 2) Your team beating out your region’s nations for the few spots available to your confederation and 3) Being chosen to be on the field in front of the world? Further triumphs and further defeats on the road to personal discovery and ultimately fulfillment will play out in front of our eyes. The players are not to blame for the atrocities, not even Qatar’s own players. They are caught up in a web that threatens to suffocate their own dreams. Their fight back won’t lie dormant either. Human expression will win out.
Each goal celebration, whether the team wins or loses, is a particular chance for choreographed or spontaneous symbolic protest against discrimination or suppression and a chance for symbolic celebration of beliefs and ways of life. I’m hoping the count for yellow cards due to players taking off their jerseys to reveal messages on undershirts or their bodies to be at an all-time high at this World Cup. Each fallen opponent, even as players battle for sweet victory, is a chance to show acceptance and unity simply by extending a hand.
We can easily go deeper to find the human spirit. Thankfully, our era enables access to voices beyond the high-profile action on the pitch. One such example regarding Qatar is longtime soccer reporter Grant Wahl.
I visited Doha for a week and spoke to migrant workers at 14 FIFA hotels, including the USMNT hotel. The Qatar Chronicles are now published:— Subscribe to GrantWahl.com (@GrantWahl) November 5, 2022
Part I: https://t.co/H1KLX125HX
Part II: https://t.co/1t1Wxz8w0P
Subscribe here to support independent journalism: https://t.co/Vpv6R3Dr10 pic.twitter.com/Phaf2ZOfZt
We are thankful to hear the voices we may not otherwise hear.
The most powerful instances of the human spirit and the commonality that binds us together will abound in the little moments within the spaces of the stands and the concourses at the stadiums, within the spaces surrounding the accommodations and the streets. Doors will be opened for others. People will hold back to let others enter a space. Eyes will meet and heads will nod in acknowledgment. Smiles will be shared between people and cultures that had not previously had a chance to interact. Acquaintances not refreshed for four years will be rekindled. And in the discussions, stories, joys, recognitions, and struggles all will share, understanding will grow and all be reminded that facing each day is an act of hope, perseverance, and rebellion and an opportunity to make things better for oneself and for others.
By the end of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup, this much vanity project for the financially rich-no-matter what leaders of Qatar, the pockets of many in power in Qatar may be further lined (though we can hope their investment is a net negative). But one can hope that the human spirit and the inclusiveness of people on display around them opens their minds and hearts. No doubt the experiences will have lined the souls and spirits of those who attended fully out of taking in all that sport can provide.
The monetary influence that the World Cup has for Qatar will likely be fleeting in the months and years to come (though they host the Asian Cup in 2023 and the Asian Games in 2030). However, for the proud people of Qatar, independent of their rulers and those with resources well beyond the average person, and for the proud people who have been brought in from other regions to make this event happen for Qatar, perhaps victims of their poverty, may the acknowledgment and kindness shown in small moments and large last indefinitely and serve as momentary, if not daily, inspiration in the face of difficulty.
Along our journey through this World Cup, let us acknowledge a common human fault. Too often, we see, even search for, the bad in others. We focus on it. We judge by it. In that focus, we fail to credit the good present. It is unfair of us. FIFA officials (and Qatari officials only by correlation) have given women referees their first roles in a Men’s World Cup and Qatar has outlawed its kafala system among other admirable, yet muted, endeavors.
For sure, the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar provides plenty of opportunities to witness the indomitable human spirit. More so, the human spirit on display and enacted in moments large and small can be the most powerful impetus for change within individuals, within institutions, and within governments.
Witnessing while watching is just as important. Take opportunities presented to talk with your family, friends, and your children about the power of the human spirit. Shine a light on the impact of corruption and injustices, but shine a brighter, broader light on how change starts with each one of us acknowledging, listening, and activating. Then listen to that person and help them understand. And don’t forget to share your struggles and how you are battling.
Above all, share your beliefs with conviction, not domination. The mind is open when convictions are presented with logic, compassion, and, above all, an understanding of and an openness to other beliefs. Whether one’s convictions are products of tradition, grooming of an authority figure, culture, or an amalgamation of experiences or a mixture, they are as personal as one’s person.
The overall setting for the 2022 World Cup is formidable. Yet so are our tools to make change.