We are entering week three of the World Cup and getting stuck into what has been a very controversial games. If you are watching it, then you might have watched it at the Students’ Union (SU) on campus. The SU has released a statement about its decision to show the games, similar to many venues in Bath, confirming it does not share the Qatari government values but believes that sport can bring people together. So, who’s watching it and who’s not?
It kicked off with the FIFA president Gianni Infantino giving an unexpected and defensive speech on the decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar. He opened the conference with criticising the West for hypocrisy in calling out the treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ community and in a somewhat sweeping statement said: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.” which has been understandably widely criticised.
On the pitch itself many teams were planning to wear the One Love armband however this was banned by FIFA. Teams have found other ways to show their support such as the German team putting their hands over their mouths for the pre-match photo. Off the pitch some commentators and pundits have been wearing the armband in support. Has the issue surrounding Qatar stopped people from watching the game?
Some people are boycotting the games from celebrities to politicians and long-term football fans. A recent survey done by More in Common found that six out of 10 people in the UK oppose Qatar hosting the World Cup over anti-gay laws, with 39% believing teams should not take part in the event. The games can be seen as supporting the regime politically and economically and sending our team is compromising our belief in human rights. The country itself is not welcoming all fans meaning many fans are not going over to Qatar to watch the games. The games are being widely streamed in the UK but many are refusing to watch them and encouraging venues such as pubs not to show them. Many would like to see a defiant act against a country where 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died during the building programme in the country in order to host the tournament.
However, much of the UK and the world is watching it. My housemate is one of those and has put England flags on his car to the mixed reaction of the rest of our house. The BBC recorded that the England versus Wales match had a UK audience of 16.59 million. For many people football is one of their passions and reason for celebration. It can be a great source of national pride and unite the country. It can bring generations together and make for a great evening of entertainment. Equally, for the players who have been training for years and dedicated their lives to football, should they not be supported because of a decision out of their hands?
Equally, many other sporting events, such as Formula One, take place in countries with similar human rights records that haven’t been as widely criticised or boycotted. Equally, the last games were held in Russia.
There can even be an argument made that the number of conversations that have been sparked from the games has raised awareness of the issues and put a spotlight onto the treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community globally.
Whatever side of the argument you sit on it boils down to what extent politics and sport influence each other and whether sport can be a force for change or upholding the current order.
If you are watching it, I hope you enjoy cheering on your team and if you aren’t I hope the games spark some positive conversations for you.