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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sports and Society: It's hard to hate the World Cup


I don’t want to hate the World Cup. Yet the 2022 World Cup in Qatar seems to want nothing more than for me to avert my eyes — disgusted by the human rights calamity and deplorable assertions that the sports world is apolitical — and go back to watching football, the American kind, as I usually do in November. 

My personal hatred in sports is reserved for whichever team happens to be playing against the one I like, or, in a more specific sense, to the New York Yankees and whatever they may be up to. It is always nonviolent, limited entirely to the field of play yet intensely passionate — an emotional experience without nonathletic equivalent — and my sports hatred can occupy an arguably unhealthy amount of my emotional energy at times, extending furthest when a Boston team is eliminated from the playoffs. 

What it does not typically extend to is a general hatred of the competition. I am, have been and will probably always be a sports fan. Whatever their imperfections or outright injustices, I still take an interest in the game being played, as the endlessly competitive battles for glory on the field can illuminate the gravest issues off it. Nowhere is this clearer than the 2022 World Cup, which begins soon.

Corruption, several cases of migrant worker abuse and even climate concerns dot the agenda of the upcoming World Cup’s summit of disaster. Despite years of assurances from FIFA, the organization known for rampant duplicity and executive incompetence, there will surely be one or two — or perhaps one or two thousand — question marks that will emerge almost immediately. Bans on alcohol consumption, the rights of women and LGBTQ fans as well as religious tolerance, seeing as Qatar does not recognize the state of Israel, are likely candidates. Thankfully for the hereditary Dictator of Qatar, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and for FIFA, network cameras won’t be able to capture the worst of it since years of stadium and venue construction were paid for with slave labor and blood. 

Soccer fans and impartial observers have responded to these events, showing banners emblazoned with “BOYCOTT QATAR” that spanned sometimes hundreds of seats and flying at recent Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund matches in the German Bundesliga. Yet certain involved parties, such as Fox Sports, a major broadcaster of the event, have taken the opposite view. Producer David Neal said all of their broadcasts will focus on the games, explicitly swearing off any discussion of stadium construction. Years of investigations have laid bare what it is we are dealing with, and it is ultimately left to each individual to decide how, or even if, they want to consume the upcoming World Cup. 

And even still, it is undeniable that the World Cup is something extraordinarily special in the global sports calendar: A unique agreement of all the soccer fans of the world that, every four years, all other sports obligations must be pushed aside in order to settle nationalistic differences on the field. I am American, yet generations of my ancestors hailed from England. My cousins now live in Switzerland, and my uncle is from France. All four nations are competing, and it is at the apex of all our collective history that the World Cup enters. 

And I frankly do not care about soccer. I have no allegiances to a domestic MLS Team, an English Premier League, Swiss Super League or a French Ligue 1 Club, nor do I watch soccer on TV. But every four years I am enthralled by the World Cup, and for that reason I do no want to hate it. Therein lies the sinister conclusion.