The World Cup highlights the best soccer players and national teams on the planet. A global event, the tournament is meant to showcase the brightest parts of the game in front of gigantic audiences.
In 2022, the World Cup is exhibiting something else, and it should give people pause about fully embracing the event. It also gives soccer players and national federations a chance to make their voices heard.
After a shady bidding process, Qatar won the right to host this tournament. Setting aside the idea of moving the tournament to the fall because of the country’s extreme summer heat, the games will be played in stadiums largely built by low-paid migrant workers. The numbers are disputed, but many died during construction. Those stadiums are in a country in which homosexuality is illegal.
Yet FIFA, the world soccer governing body, urged teams and players to avoid politics and stick to sports. Some will undoubtedly follow that dictum, but not all will.
While it’s a personal choice to focus solely on soccer and winning games, those who don’t play along should be celebrated.
The U.S. men’s national team is making its feelings known by planning to use a logo with rainbow colors at any space it controls. The modified badge won’t be worn during games, but it will be seen wherever else the USMNT goes.
“We have chatted and continue to have discussions as we lead into the games,” USMNT and former Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson said, according to the Guardian. “We have leaned on the message of ‘Be the Change.’ That is something that we have been proud of and continue to work toward, be impactful with ourselves, our presence and our platform, and we will continue to be so here in Qatar.”
The USMNT isn’t alone. The Dutch national team will be auctioning their jerseys to support migrant workers. In September, it was reported that a handful of captains — including England’s Harry Kane — intended to wear anti-discrimination captain’s armbands as part of the OneLove campaign.
“Talking about the issues and raising the issues and putting them on the table is the vehicle that people involved in sport have used in the past, and it is what we’re trying to do this time,” England manager Gareth Southgate said in September. “There will always be criticism, whatever you do, but we’re trying to affect the areas we’ve been asked to affect. Unless other ideas come forward and other requests that we think are suitable are on the table, then it’s difficult to do more than we’ve been asked.”
These are positive gestures from people who don’t really have a choice about participating in the tournament. Sure, some might get another chance if they decided to boycott, but it’s unfair to expect players to skip an event they’ve worked toward their whole lives.
Fans and sponsors do have a choice. If they want to fully throw themselves into this World Cup and simply enjoy the action and drama — or profit from it — that’s their decision.
But everything around the tournament shouldn’t be forgotten.