Xherdan Shaqiri focused on soccer, not politics, as World Cup approaches

For some, the upcoming tournament is another example of sportswashing, with concerns about the treatment of migrant laborers, the LGBT community and women.

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Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to play for Switzerland in this month’s World Cup.

Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to play for Switzerland in this month’s World Cup.

Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

FIFA is holding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and it is a controversial topic.

Because of Qatar’s harsh summers, the tournament was moved to the fall, disrupting the global soccer calendar. A country with little soccer tradition, Qatar won the bidding under shady circumstances.

But beyond those subjects, there has been extensive reporting on the treatment and living conditions of migrant workers who built the tournament’s stadiums. Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who is -expected to play for Switzerland later this month, sounded more focused on soccer than any of the outside concerns. 

“Look, we are Switzerland; we stand for human rights and that everything goes right for humans,” Shaqiri said this week. “But we are really focusing on the performing. This is a political question I don’t want to answer because I’m really focusing only on my performance and from the team who is the most important, because when the World Cup starts, every player, every team wants to perform and to make their nation proud. 

“For me, I’m really focusing only on the performance and not on the political stuff on the side.” 

Perhaps not everybody will feel the same way when the games actually begin.

For some, the upcoming tournament is another example of a country using international sports to burnish its image. Outside of the methods the small nation used to build itself up to host the world’s biggest tournament, concerns exist about Qatar’s view of the LGBT community and its general human-rights record. 

The Fire themselves got caught up in the sportswashing issue when they chose to keep Arlo White on their broadcasts after the famed announcer signed with the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf tour. White, who previously had aired concerns about the Saudi takeover of English Premier League club Newcastle United, became the voice of the nascent golf league earlier this year while calling a handful of Fire games on WGN when his schedule allowed.

The debate over sportswashing is not new. The 2018 World Cup and 2014 Winter Games were held in Russia and the 2008 Summer Games were in China, among recent examples. Politics merging with sports is common, and though he didn’t wade into that area Wednesday, Shaqiri’s past actions could be taken as political.

In 2018, Shaqiri scored the game-winner against Serbia in a World Cup group match. After the goal, Shaqiri crossed his hands in front of chest to make what looked like the double-eagle symbol of ethnic Albanians.

Shaqiri was born in Gjilan, Yugoslavia (now Kosovo) to Kosovar Albanian parents. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and Shaqiri’s gesture was viewed as a political message. FIFA fined Shaqiri, the Serbian FA complained and then-Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said politics and sports shouldn’t mix.

“It was a fantastic goal, an important goal for my team and I am very proud I was able to score it for them,” Shaqiri said in 2018, according to The Guardian. “I can’t discuss the gesture I’m afraid. We are footballers, not politicians. Emotions sometimes take over footballers and there was a lot of emotion out there.”

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