The World Cup Dilemma

The FIFA World Cup is perhaps the most popular event in the world, with global viewership comparable to that of the Olympics. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been perhaps the most exciting one in the competition’s history so far, with countries from traditionally weaker regions claiming victories against powerhouse teams. However, the excitement for the tournament contrasts with its many controversies regarding Qatar’s human rights violations and discrimination. These acts blemish the event’s significance as a global sports event that promotes inclusivity. As a result many people, including fans of the sport, are boycotting the tournament.

So, here’s the question: Should you watch the World Cup?

The simple answer would be no. Qatar is a terrible place to host such an event, and it would be best if everyone boycotts it, whether it’s the fans or players.

Qatar is a unique nation where only about ten percent of its residents are Qatari; the rest are migrant workers from South Asia, as Priya Dsouza reported. While the country has a whopping Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of over 80,000 dollars, the treatment that these foreign workers receive is unimaginably harsh, with forced labor and overworking being almost normal. Many activists even liken Qatar’s labor laws to a modern form of slavery. So it’s pretty clear that a country that openly breaks human rights and discriminates against foreign residents and an event that symbolizes the unity of the world don’t really go together. 

Qatar isn’t even covering up human rights offenses, which is malicious in its own right — it’s actually creating more. In order to build all the facilities needed to host the event, workers underwent labor under harsh conditions, with many being underpaid and working long hours under the hot desert climate, resulting in over 6,500 deaths, according to The Guardian.

Besides all the human rights offenses, homosexuality is also illegal in Qatar, and this World Cup is contributing to this already existing discrimination. While the Qatari government has temporarily allowed the display of rainbow flags in stadiums and assured LGBTQIA+ couples will not be arrested during the event (how generous!), the problem at its root has not been resolved at all. Fans who wore rainbow-colored outfits were denied entrance into stadiums and even detained. Players that attempted to wear rainbow-colored armbands for OneLove, an anti-racism, anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination campaign, were forbidden to do so, and were instead forced to wear black armbands with the words “no discrimination,” according to ESPN UK.

But while it would be ideal if everyone boycotts the World Cup, that isn’t realistic. Moreover, the issue of watching the World Cup isn’t so black and white.

For many, the World Cup is an event where you gather with your friends and family to cheer together and connect to your country and heritage. As an international student, watching the World Cup has given me a chance to connect back to my country, create watch parties with friends, and talk about South Korea’s qualification for the knockout stages with my dad. While the event may be tainted, it’s maybe the only occasion where two countries can put aside their political, social, and cultural differences and enjoy a sport. 

And in a more positive light, the event has brought global attention from many people such as myself to the issues in Qatar. Alongside that global attention is a possibility for future change. Due to the World Cup, more news coverage and research have been made about issues in Qatar. Changes, although temporary or minor, have been made due to international attention, which is still a significant step for a conservative Muslim regime to take. 

But the most daunting fact is that most criticisms are forgotten, as we are quick to move on to other attention-grabbing issues. It might be discouraging, but even if I as an individual speak up against what is happening in Qatar, or even boycott the World Cup, chances are that no meaningful changes will occur. 

But it’s about setting a statement. If watching the World Cup is being tacit to the issues in Qatar, the answer is to not be tacit. Speak up. Whether it’s informing those around you, acting on social media, or even writing articles for The Phillipian, show that you care about these issues and stand for something. Change doesn’t start from an individual, it starts from a group of people who think similarly and are driven to create change. If we can’t create a spark for immediate change, we should at least plant seeds for the future. 

This extends to other fields as well. In modern days, it’s harder to find things that don’t have any connection to an immoral offense. Wealth from Gulf dictatorships is in multiple sports teams and global corporations, it is impossible to avoid their influence. Russia, who hosted the World Cup just four years ago, doesn’t exactly have the cleanest track record when it comes to human rights either. The same goes for many other nations, including the United States of America. Even when it boils down to everyday life, whether it’s ordering packages from Amazon, shopping at Walmart, or even listening to Kanye, we’re unknowingly, or knowingly supporting something immoral going on behind the scenes. 

Whether you are boycotting or cheering on your team in the World Cup, the fact is that 6,500 workers paid for those stadiums with their lives. But if we recognize what has happened, spread awareness, and organize a collective effort, perhaps we can prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future. And if you are a true fan of the sport, you shouldn’t just watch “a sport as a sport,” because it is more than that. It’s a reflection of the good in our world — the excitement, unity, inclusivity, fairness, and everything else we cherish. So unless you agree with these values being tarnished with corruption, human rights violations, and discrimination, it is your duty to be aware. To speak up.