Every four years, the football world cup brings the world together. The euphoric bond transcends religious, ideological, political and time barriers. Messi, Mbappe, Neymar and Benzema, artists in motion, mesmerize and enthrall fans as did football greats like Pele and Maradona. At a mind-boggling 227.27 million viewers per day an estimated 5 billion people, nearly three fourth of humanity, viewed the Qatar World Cup matches this year.
This World Cup, despite the fissures within, was promoted as a symbol of Arab solidarity and a bridge between the West and the Arab world. However, Qatar made it clear that it would not compromise on its religion, culture and traditions. The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy responsible for overseeing the Qatar World Cup said: “Everyone is welcome in Qatar. We simply ask for people to respect our culture”.
Not to be, Qatar was barraged for its anti-LGBT stance and human rights record. Some called to boycott the cup. So vicious was this onslaught that FIFA President Gianni Infantino had to speak out in defense of Qatar on the eve of the World Cup. In the rebuttal, he called out the stark hypocrisy and crass insensitivity of the West. He praised Qatar for taking “a few years to do what took Europe hundreds of years”, adding “What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 before starting to give moral lessons”.
Despite the West’s bluster about LGBT rights, its members have been subjected to the worst kind of violence. Just a few weeks ago, Anderson Aldrich opened fire in a LGBT nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing and wounding 30 people. President Biden’s self-indicting lament was: “The LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence. Gun violence continues to have a devastating impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing”. Previously, 49 people were massacred and 50 wounded in an attack on Pulse Nightclub, again a LGBT hangout in Orlando.
Washington and Europe’s active promotion and endorsement of LGBT has triggered reactionary responses within their own countries. It has seen politicians gaining ascendency just because of their anti-LGBT stance and policies. Last month, former cabinet minister Lorenzo Fontana, known for his anti-abortion and anti-gay views was elected Speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament. Hungary has passed stringent anti-LGBT laws with a number of Eastern European countries and Russia doing the same.
Claiming to be human rights champions, Washington enacted many bills and resolutions targeting migrants and refugees. We saw the inhuman plight of caged refugees as children, including infants, were cruelly separated from their wailing mothers. Europe, on its part, has seen thousands of these migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. Those who make it to their shores have been treated inhumanely and sent back to the very lands they fled from; so much for human rights and its godfathers.
The hypocrisy can also be gauged with Washington seeing nothing wrong in Qatar when it operates Al Udeid Air Base there. The largest US military base in the Middle East, it houses 11,000 US military personnel with a plane landing or taking off every ten minutes round the clock. Criminal hypocrisy has seen Washington targeting Qatar’s state owned Al Jazeera. In April 2003 Tareq Ayoub, a 35 year old reporter, was killed in a deliberate strike on Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau.
Fearing such a criminal act, Al Jazeera had written and provided the precise location of its office to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a month earlier. The US also struck Al Jazeera offices and personnel in Basra and Kabul. In May this year, Washington abetted Israeli forces deliberately targeted and killed veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank city of Jenin. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Israel to open a criminal investigation into the assassination; it has fallen on deaf ears.
Iraq was in the 7th year of its invasion, killing and maiming millions, when the US won the bid to host the 2010 world cup. Despite its genocidal military forays, the US has been entrusted to hold the 2026 football world cup, its second in 16 years. The dichotomy is also evident with Russia being banned by FIFA for its invasion of Ukraine. In Qatar, the West shall encourage show of support for Ukraine but condemn the same against Israel.
The mindset that we were colonized so that we could be civilized persists. The West responsible for the worst of atrocities and colonization is a hotbed of Islamophobia and xenophobic populism. These would-be torch bearers of humanity show utter contempt for the vast mosaic of religions, customs and convictions that govern cultures and societies across the globe. This mindset sees them imposing their morals, rules and preferences on what they have always disparagingly considered as the lesser mortals of this world.
It is the spirit and magic of this game that Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina was celebrated from Aleppo to Baghdad in an otherwise fractious Arab World. Even Yemen’s Houthis, at war with Saudi Arabia, rejoiced at the win. These images along with that of Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, whose country was blockaded by Saudi Arabia and its allies, with a Saudi flag draped round his neck is a sublime moment no military victory or blockade can ever achieve. Can anyone take away the supreme sense of achievement from Saudi Arabia’s Green Falcons having beaten Argentina, ultimately the world champions?
How can one forget the all-enveloping rapture that saw Morocco, whom its coach Walid Regragui rightfully dubbed the “Rocky of this World Cup”, defying history to become the first African team to reach the semi-finals? Memories of Mbappe doing the almost unthinkable in the finals for a 2 down France with a sublime hat-trick shall be forever etched in our collective memories as shall the crowning glory of this wonderfully hosted Qatar World Cup remain a domain of Argentina and Lionel Messi, the magician who did and achieved all.
We should, therefore, be spared the hypocritical spiel and let football remain a global binder that it has been. The key to a far better world is not dichotomous morality but in the riveting Morgan Freeman Ghanim Al Muftah dialogue from the inauguration ceremony of the Qatar World Cup. Freeman asks, “How can we perpetuate harmony more and more”? Al Muftah replies, “With tolerance and respect, we can live together under one roof”. Wars, ideological or military, are often waged on false beliefs; it is a horrendous trek. It is of paramount importance that we vie for, seek and nurture unity in diversity. This shall be the bedrock of a world united in peace, cohesion and mutual respect.
Mir Adnan Aziz is a political commentator