Issue 3 Editorial: World Cup highlights human rights violations

Head Editorial Board

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) inconsistent regulation of “offensive” displays in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup has prompted discontent among fans. Well known as the biggest international sporting event after the Olympics, the World Cup boasts millions of viewers per game, and thus, has been seen as a way for players and spectators alike to speak up on relevant issues. 

Captains of the teams from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England and Wales were all slated to wear “OneLove” armbands to show their support for LGBTQ+ rights during their respective games. According to the teams’ joint statement, they were prepared to pay any fines for breaking kit regulations, but when FIFA threatened to sanction players over their choice in apparel, the teams decided to move forward without the armbands. 

FIFA’s decision is a blatant stand to enact their policy of prohibiting paraphernalia of “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” Moreover, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, has made a public statement urging teams to “focus on football” instead of engaging in political topics at the tournament.

We at the Hoofprint believe that while international sporting events should maintain a sense of camaraderie, they cannot be held on a global level without bringing politics into the arena. In the context of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, nations and their players alike should reserve their right to speak up against human rights issues. Although it’s convenient to put politics aside for sports, actively ignoring human rights matters during such a tumultuous time is equivalent to excusing them. Furthermore, the problem lies with the fact that the exclusion of controversial issues is left to the opinion of the governing body — in this context, FIFA and Qatar — who have shown clear biases.

As such, some spectators have shown support for Iranian protests at World Cup games by holding flags and wearing clothes with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” as a way to bring awareness to the women’s rights movement in Iran. In response, World Cup organizers have clamped down on such spectators, as many have been subjected to harsh treatment from in-game enforcement. On the contrary, spectators seen holding Palestinian flags in the audience and chanting pro-Palestinian statements, did not face any consequences.

The stark difference between the treatment of these various protesters — with organizers being much more receptive toward pro-Palestine supporters compared to those speaking out for LGBTQ+ and Iranian rights — shows their penchant for selective censorship. With the World Cup’s considerable influence, its inconsistent behavior toward human rights issues has dangerous potential. Instead, the football tournament should refrain from penalizing players, teams and spectators alike for their protests for human rights and conversely, accurately champion their practice of equality through their movement of “football is for everyone.”