We need to courageously start to address the injustices in our own countries
Statements made by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) President Gianni Infantino in defence of the host country Qatar before the start of the tournament were harshly criticized in the Western media.
Some of these criticisms were justified. There is no reason why a country as rich as Qatar should have treated the workers who built the infrastructure for the tournament unjustly. Estimates of the number who died in this effort vary from 37 to 6,500. Regardless of the exact number, knowing that anyone lost their life and that organizers have lacked transparency on this issue certainly puts a damper on enthusiasm for the tournament.
However, other criticisms of the host country from the Western media are quite disingenuous. A great deal of attention has been drawn to the draconian policies with regard to homosexuality that exist in Qatar. Need we be reminded that homophobia was well entrenched in the laws of the countries that criticize Qatar until very recently? The fact that members of the rainbow community still fear random attacks in much of the world is certainly an equally important issue.
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While it is true that women are oppressed in Qatar, it would also make sense to focus on sexism in other countries. We need to look no further than the lack of pay equity in Canada to recognize how far we still need to go.
Journalists have criticized the lack of freedom of expression in Qatar, but do we truly have freedom of the press when corporate sponsors have as much influence in our media as they currently do?
In addition, it is important to admit that some brilliant ideas have been implemented in the Qatar World Cup. Why is it assumed that the consumption of mind-altering, carcinogenic beverages needs to be part of our enjoyment of sports? Banning alcohol sales may not be popular with large breweries, but it is certainly good for our health.
The elephant in the room is that many critics in Western countries do not believe Qatar should have been allowed to host the Men’s World Cup in the first place. This, however, has much less to do with Qatar than with the level of corruption in FIFA itself. Going deeper, this causes us to recognize that we need a much more precise definition of the word “corruption”.
Why, for example, do we allow wealthy donors to give copious amounts of money to our political parties? Doesn’t this draw the focus of elected officials away from what is in the best interest of ordinary citizens? Isn’t that also corruption?
The fact that this tournament is being hosted in the Middle East is also thought-provoking. As one who studies human rights abuses in the region, I cannot look at the cartoon shown on Canadian sports channels showing Middle Eastern children playing soccer without thinking of how many innocent people have been killed by drones controlled by far-away military personnel. Given this reality, can we imagine how fear-inducing it is for parents to simply allow their children to play outside?
The 2022 Men’s Football World Cup is about much more than soccer, and perhaps it is good that Qatar was chosen as the host. I would not go as far as Gianni Infantino and say that we have no right to criticize human rights abuses in the host country because they clearly exist. What is perhaps more important, however, is that we recognize all the fingers pointing back at us and courageously address the injustices that we need to remedy.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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