Play Football not Politics – FIFA President Gianni Infantino

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino

ONDRIVE with Sham Samaroo

(November 12, 2022) – “Let football take center stage” in Qatar was the message from FIFA President, Gianni Infantino. “Please let’s focus on football!” and “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists”. Infantino is echoing the sentiments of many across the soccer world. CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation says it is “time to leave controversies behind” and called for “unity in support of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, a country eager to show its hospitality and warmth”. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) consisting of 54 nations echoed the same sentiments of unity and support. “We recognize that football has over the years been an important tool for bringing together and uniting people from different races, language groups and religious backgrounds,” says Caf President Patrice Motsepe.

In 2010, Qatar became the first country in the Middle East awarded the World Cup in FIFA’s 92-year history. The tiny nation beat out a strong challenge from the United States in a 14-8 vote. Asked about the decision, then US President Barack Obama responded: “I think it was the wrong decision.” An unwarranted response that smacked of entitlement. From that moment, and for the past 12 years, a cloud of controversy has surrounded the decision with allegations ranging from credible human rights violations to the ridiculously absurd: that the decision was based on money and big business. Pray tell what decisions today are not based on money and big business! Qatar has also had to face questions about its moral and religious traditions.

In his message, Infantino called on teams to avoid handing out lessons in morality, the letter reads: “At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world. One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity.” The message appears to be directed in part at teams from Europe – France, England, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Wales – critical of the host nation’s stance on same-sex relationships, human rights record, and treatment of migrant workers. Somehow, it appears slightly ironic when Europeans lament human rights and the treatment of migrant workers if one recalls the slave trade and indentured servitude (a gloried term for slavery). Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamd Al Thani, bemoaned “fabrications and double standards” in what he termed an “unprecedented campaign” against a World Cup host.

In September at the UN General Assembly in New York, the Emir issued a statement that all visitors to Qatar will be welcome “regardless of origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.” Was any host nation previously required to give such guarantees at the UN? Was Germany, host in 1974, merely 30 years after the Second World War, a war they started for world domination that resulted in the death of over 40 million people. I was in the Soviet Union in the 80s, some 40 years after the war and one could still clearly see the destruction and devastation; the impoverishment and suffering of those people. Were they made to give assurances at the UN that they would not plunge the world into a third world war? And what about England, host in 1966, Spain, host in 1982, or France, host in 1998, were they made to apologize for the abuses of slavery and indentured servitude? And over the years, Amnesty International “has documented widespread human rights violations in China” yet no such demands were made on China when Beijing hosted the Olympics. Starboy wonders how much of a role money and big business played there. “Double standards” anyone?

None of this, mind you, is to suggest that there is no need for reform, but expressing outrage at a soccer tournament is just as effective as screaming outrage at the sky. Is it merely designed to make one feel good about oneself? Meaningful change takes time. Amnesty International acknowledged as much saying that in Qatar there have been “noticeable improvements” since 2017 in its labor system (that’s the report from Amnesty International). The report added that abuses are still rife, and there is a long way to go.
One simply cannot mandate morality, beliefs, and attitudes. Changes in people are best achieved when encouraged by example, and not forced upon them. Isn’t demanding that a people change their life styles and religious beliefs morality policing? Starboy seh enough a’ready, time to party: Shut up and dance with me, Just keep your eyes on me, This woman game is my destiny…

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The West Indian.