November 21, 2022

LEVIN | Sit This World Cup Out

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As citizens of the world, Cornellians love the most popular global sport: soccer. Some of our first memories are on the field. I started playing aged four and grew up dribbling past opponents, tackling heavy-set forwards and scoring to the applause of my family on the sidelines. At a time of great polarization in America and abroad, the beautiful game, as it’s called, unites us, but we also need to recognize when the principles of sportsmanship are ignored for greed — that is my concern with the Qatar World Cup, which opened on Nov. 20. 

Since 2010, when Qatar won hosting rights for this year’s World Cup, controversy has embroiled the competition. Various officials from FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, stand accused of having accepted bribes from Qatar to bias the selection of a host nation in its favor. Over the last decade, FIFA has banned around a dozen of its top officials who elected to have a World Cup in the Gulf country over accusations of graft. Despite these allegations, a 2014 vote among FIFA bigwigs approved the tournament to go ahead. 

Qatar’s legal code bans premarital sex, meaning that even rape survivors are punished by the letter of the law. Homosexuality is also criminal: men accused of having sex with other men face up to seven years in prison. There, being gay is seen as a disorder, and the Establishment believes that that backward view justifies conversion therapy, legalized discrimination and imprisonment as responses. Qatar claims that all are invited to watch the world-famous tournament play out, but ex-citizen and gay rights activist Dr. Nasser Mohammed warns of “intrusive surveillance” and a culture hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. Germany, England and France have announced that they have called on their captains to wear rainbow-themed armbands to the contest in protest, though FIFA may impose fines and other sanctions for the display of solidarity. 

In response to furor from activists, Qatar’s emir demanded that visitors “respect our culture.” That culture is dictated by despots who’ve chosen to impose their religious prescriptions on all who attend the biggest event in sports. This is, of course, an outrageous position as one of the defining principles of the World Cup is that it defies borders and celebrates cultural distinctions. The regime’s prejudice is a terrible reversal of the competition’s legacy. 

The Qatari government’s mistreatment of migrant workers is another horrific scandal. Evidence suggests that upwards of 6,500 predominantly South Asian laborers died in the large-scale construction of infrastructure for the World Cup, many suffering heart attacks, strokes and other stress-induced health failures after toiling year round in sweltering heat. For over a decade, Qatar has engaged in a conspiracy to cover up its negligence by misrepresenting the deaths of thousands of migrant workers as natural. Such a history of human rights abuses should disqualify the nation from being celebrated as host of the World Cup, but greed is apparently more swaying than our collective upset as fans.

Cornellians, I encourage you all to join me in boycotting the Qatar World Cup over Thanksgiving recess. I also call on Big Red soccer to issue a statement condemning the World Cup for Qatar’s heteronormative policies and blatant disregard for human life. In principle and in practice, soccer should always be a sport where all are welcome and human capabilities are commemorated without prejudice.

Gabriel Levin (he/him) is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Almost Fit to Print runs every other Monday this semester.