The Guardian’s opinion on the World Cup in Qatar: sportwashing stains the image of football | Editorial

meIf sports washing was once a novel concept, it now seems standard for major international events. But the World Cup, which starts next Sunday, so far appears to have done more to tarnish football’s image than to improve Qatar’s. Die-hard fans, as well as human rights advocates, have complained that this seems more like a dirty hymn to money and power than a joyous celebration of the game, even if the drama and tension of the tournament will end up overwhelming any scruples. many people.

The surprise decision to award Qatar the contest was controversial even in 2010. But with revelations about its treatment of migrant workers and the spotlighting of its anti-gay laws, concern has steadily increased. Last week, a World Cup ambassador from Qatar described homosexuality as “mental damage” and former FIFA chief Sepp Blatter said Qatar was a poor choice as host (albeit only because it was “too small a country”). ).

Supporters of the decision say high-profile events can be a lever to improve human rights. In the case of Qatar, there has been modest progress, including a (very low) minimum wage. But time is running out for more change, and there is skepticism about whether even small gains will last. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup did not bring improvements in rights in Russia. The years between the 2008 Summer Games and this year’s Winter Olympics saw a rise in repression in China.

Part of the problem is that rich but repressive states seem to feel they have the most to gain by organizing these kinds of events. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia, which will host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in the heart of the desert, is determined to win an Olympic Games. Regimes seeking accolades have won the help of sports stars, from David Beckham to Pep Guardiola, and international institutions who employ high-flown rhetoric about athletic excellence and global friendship while making big money. Allegations of corruption have long dogged the International Olympic Committee. Since then, sixteen of the 22 voting members of the FIFA executive committee that handed over the World Cup to Qatar have been implicated or investigated for alleged corruption or malpractice (although not all in connection with that decision).

Attempts to deflect criticism only make it look worse. FIFA has told national teams that their job is not to “teach moral lessons” and that the game should not be “dragged into every ideological or political battle”. That rightfully received little attention. Ten European football associations, including those in England and Wales, responded that “human rights are universal and apply everywhere.” They have also urged FIFA to deliver on two unfulfilled promises: a compensation fund and a center for migrant workers. Several national captains will wear rainbow bracelets to support the OneLove anti-discrimination campaign.

But the challenge posed by sportswashing will not be truly addressed unless international governing bodies undergo fundamental changes. Although they show little sign of taking that into account, this World Cup suggests that some national associations may at last be starting to think differently. At least some players and officials are realizing that football needs to improve.

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