I had been planning to write this article for some time. It had been percolating at the back of my brain for weeks, giving me an opportunity to offer a more long-form version of thoughts that I had been tweeting from time to time. Then, this morning, numerous Football Associations around Europe confirmed that they would not be wearing the ‘One Love’ armband that they had been planning to do, having learning that the player wearing the armband might receive a booking for doing so. The extent to which this has incensed me cannot be understated. I am not gay. I am happily married to my wife Rachel and have been for over four years. Yet I have numerous friends that are members of the LGBTQ+ community and my heart absolutely breaks for them. These are people that cannot do things that straight cis people take for granted. They can’t hold hands whilst walking down the road or kiss in public for fear of the discrimination that might come their way as a result.
It’s interesting that the brave football players championing the rights of the LGBTQ movement… won’t be doing so in Qatar as they host the World Cup.
— Martin Wickens (@mnwickens) November 21, 2022
They are attacked on an almost daily basis, both figuratively and literally. High-profile figures like J. K. Rowling attack trans people simply for existing. Whilst the idea of wearing an armband was a hollow enough gesture in the first place, for the various FAs to abandon said gesture makes it all the more pathetic. LGBTQ+ people are persecuted simply for existing and the idea of being shown a yellow card is too much for the likes of Harry Kane to offer them even a modicum of support. It is infuriating beyond belief, yet is also not all that surprising. To too many people, there is a sense that being an ally is all about making empty gestures rather than standing up to the oppressors. So often, people only want to stand in solidarity with others as long as it is at no personal cost to them. The English FA’s response that they were willing to pay a fine but will not risk being booked almost seems to make it worse, in some ways. Money they’ve got plenty of, but moral fibre is in short supply.
A World Cup Representing Everything That Is Wrong With Modern Football
This World Cup was won by Qatar thanks to dodgy dealings and corruption. Of that, there can be little doubt. The country paid for it because they see it as a chance to sports wash their reputation around the world. That is a sentence that we’ve grown far too used to in recent years. Whether it be the Qatar Sports Investments ownership of Paris Saint Germain, the Abu Dhabi United Group’s 2008 purchase of Manchester City or the recent takeover of Newcastle United by by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, we have grown used to countries with appalling human rights records moving to buy into football for the specific purpose of sports washing their misdeeds. In many ways, this World Cup is the perfect distillation of that, demonstrating just how much football fans are willing to ignore for the sake of being able to watch 22 people kick a ball around a football pitch. ‘Concentrate on the football’ has been the cry, with so many willing to do precisely that.
Every nation, of course, it goes without saying, should have the right to bid for & stage a World Cup, if they can. As Qatar will do so, from tomorrow. But is there ANYONE in the world, anyone at all, who thinks this electorate picked Qatar on hosting merit? pic.twitter.com/rY9HqhhtnD
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) November 19, 2022
We all suspect that Qatar won the World Cup bid via illegal means. We know of the corruption that was rife in FIFA at the time that the bid was won. In spite of the promise to hold the tournament in the summer, it was moved to winter and has interrupted the Premier League season. In the years since, we have all seen reports of the migrant workers that have died building the stadiums, to say nothing of the appalling living and working conditions of those that have survived. Countless reports into the oppression of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community have emerged in recent times. Yet in spite of it all, people are willing to ‘concentrate on the football’. When the World Cup is over and done, we will see the viewing figures and learn that there is virtually nothing that will stop people from tuning in to watch football, giving FIFA a green light to host tournaments whenever and wherever it wishes to. That is something I can’t be a part of.
You Have To Make A Stand
As I said in the introduction I have many friends in the LGBTQ+ community. I have no idea how I’m supposed to look them in the eye and say, “Yes, I know the World Cup is being held in a country that might put you to death if you went there and would certainly persecute you, but I find Wales versus Iran too intriguing to miss.” There will doubtless be plenty of people that would tell me that I’m ‘virtue signalling’. I’m sure morons like Matt Le Tissier would inform me that I’m ‘woke’, even though they don’t really know what that word means. Honestly, I don’t care. You have to make a stand somewhere. The countless examples of false equivalence and ‘whatabouterry’ I’ve seen over this issue are depressing for their predictability. One tweet I sent about my problem with sports washing was criticised for coming from an Apple phone. Gianni Infantino himself has said that it is racism to offer a critique of the World Cup, simply because it is being held in an Arab country.
Quite a statement from Amnesty on Gianni Infantino.
Describe his “stick to football” letter as “crass abdication” of Fifa’s accountability for migrant worker abuses, while accusing him of remaining “silent” and “dodging the topic”.
Demand a pledge to compensate victims.
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) November 12, 2022
Of course countries like the United States of America, England and France have problems. It goes without saying that our history isn’t one to be proud of. Yet pointing to the past as an excuse for something that is happening in the present doesn’t make any sense. The 2026 World Cup will be hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the US and all three of those countries will come in for criticism as the tournament draws closer. Right now, we have to deal with the issue at hand and that comes in the form of a host nation that oppresses women, minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, so it should be called out for doing so. It isn’t racism for calling out the appalling beliefs and behaviours of the Qatari government and to say it is is, frankly, disgusting. Given everything that we know about this World Cup, from the way it was won through to the deaths of migrant workers and the treatment of anyone other than cis men, I can’t in good conscience ignore it all just so I can ‘concentrate on the football’. I won’t do what the sports washers want me to.