World Cup of gallery

US and Iran footballers battle it out on the field at the World Cup on November 29. AP Photo -
US and Iran footballers battle it out on the field at the World Cup on November 29. AP Photo -

TEMPERS have flared, passions have run high – and we’re not talking about just the football fans.

The Qatar World Cup continues to capture the attention of billions around the world. But while a lot of the focus has been on the action on the field, arguably the biggest aspect of the tournament has been playing out on the sidelines.

It is as though what is really at stake is not a championship cup, but the answer to the question: Should politics and football mix?

Even before a single match began, there was a wave from the stands of commentators questioning Qatar’s treatment of workers, hundreds of whom died in tournament-related projects.

The host country’s record on human rights, including its handling of LGBT+ issues, came under scrutiny. The England team flew to the tournament on a gay pride-themed plane. A broadcaster sported a rainbow armband.

This was the reaction of a country whose government recently excluded transgendered people from the remit of its protections against conversion therapy.

Like clockwork, critics have lashed back at the perceived attempt by bigger countries to impose values on others and the apparent tendency of the Western world to meddle in the affairs of its neighbours, while many Western countries have problems of their own.

US soccer administrators over the weekend briefly tampered with a graphic of Iran’s flag, removing its emblem of the Islamic Republic to show solidarity with protesters in Iran. US Soccer said the gesture was “to support the Iranian people in the face of state-sponsored violence against women...”

But the US is the same country whose citizens, in 2016, chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, arguably one of the most qualified individuals ever to vie for the post of US president. To date, Mr Trump’s lifeblood remains those Americans who have sympathy for his skewed worldview.

Iran called for the US team to be thrown out of the tournament.

The offshoot of all of this is the view, expressed by many, that football should just be about football and nothing more. To best inspire, it should be a pure spectacle.

But sport can never be entirely divorced from its context. Throughout history, major tournaments have been used by various regimes to buttress their reputations and add a veneer of legitimacy to their standing in the world.

The still-unfolding FIFA corruption scandal, with all its geopolitical elements, has laid bare the worldly underbelly of the so-called beautiful game.

The truth is, there are legitimate human-rights issues crying out to be addressed. At the same time, many countries calling for this to happen now do not have their own houses in order.

All sides know this. And, much like footballers sometimes do before the crowds, all sides know they are merely gallerying.


"World Cup of gallery"

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