Politics Aside, It’s About Substance Over Style


There was the usual convergence of politics too in Qatar. Western countries cried hoarse about the human rights situation in the host country, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino tearing into these criticisms by asking these countries to go and look into their own moral mirrors and, if possible, to come across as squeaky clean. With alcohol and beer banned in football stadiums during the course of the matches, European fans, especially those from England, displayed fine camaraderie sitting with the fans of opposing teams both off the stadium precincts and within. However, the plan to sport “One Love” armbands by the captains of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark to protest Qatar’s laws prohibiting same-sex relationships did not quite work with yellow card threats from FIFA.

What did succeed was the Iran men’s team’s deafening silence as their country’s national anthem was played prior to their opener against England—a symbolic protest to display their support for the public revolt taking place in their country after the death of Mahsa Amini in custody. This was in stark contrast to what had taken place in New Delhi during the Asian Games in 1982, when anti-Khomeini protestors clashed with the Iranian national team, which supported the then ruling establishment in Iran. However, the Iranian team was asked to sing the national anthem for their second match against Wales by their football federation or face disciplinary action as Iranian fans stood stoically behind their helpless national team.

Qatar in effect became the microcosm of all that was happening in the world, and surely it did take a while before football took center stage from the contemporary interludes drifting from the global sidelines.

One can only fervently hope that as the U.S., Canada, and Mexico prepare themselves to be the next hosts of the quadrennial tournament, the world does its best and gives it all to be a more inclusive and peaceful place. As Herve Renard, the manager of the Saudi team, exhorted his exhausted and dispirited players during halftime against Argentina when they were a goal down, “This is the World Cup; give it everything.” That they did it and turned the tables is a fascinating story for future generations.

Anand Mathew is a social development consultant based in New Delhi. 


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