As the world’s best soccer teams start to advance to the knockout rounds at the World Cup tournament, one cannot ignore the inevitable geo-political concerns that are taking place between the matches. FIFA’s controversial move to award host nation status to Qatar, the suspension of the Russian national team from international competition, and the presence of Iran’s team despite worldwide condemnation that the death of Mahsa Amini has brought, are just some of the off-field international issues that have been seen during the 2022 tournament.
During a match between Portugal and Uruguay a protester holding a rainbow flag and wearing a Superman shirt with messages supporting Ukraine and Iranian women, ran onto the field. This was a clack at many countries, in particular Qatar for its discrimination against LGBTQ members. FIFA has in past years enforced its own policies defining human rights, which has now been called in to question. As a reminder FIFA threatened a sporting sanction on any country representing the “one love” or wearing a rainbow armband.
2. Humanitarian Crisis
As of right now, it is estimated that 400-500 migrants have lost their lives in preparation for the World Cup, mainly in the process of building the stadium where the actual event is taking place. This has alerted many to the inactive protection of human rights in Qatar.
3. U.S./ Iran
The U.S. victory over Iran’s team was celebrated by both Americans and Iranians, many of whom consider their national team to be an extension of the government. On the streets of Iran, protesters who continue into the third month of protests celebrated the Iranian team’s loss as a signal to the nation’s leadership. Iran’s soccer players, who have been accused by many as having a close relationship with the regime, stood in silence when their national anthem rang through the stadium. It is said that the Iranian team captain acknowledged the families of individuals killed in the protests at the pre-World Cup conference. The U.S. soccer team contributed in its own way by temporarily presenting the Iranian flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic on their social media accounts. A U.S. official later confirmed that the gesture had no coordination with the State Department. Following the situation, Iran’s state media reported that the U.S. should be immediately kicked out of the tournament and suspended for 10 days.
While China does not have a team playing in the World Cup this year, they are enforcing their strict COVID rules by censoring unmasked individuals during the matches. The increase in censorship with these matches has brought about a wave of protests coming from the younger generation of Chinese. Their goal is to gain global recognition of their human rights in ways that have impacted their connection to the rest of the world.
5. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Yemen
Fans were ecstatic when Saudi Arabia beat Argentina and their star-studded player Lionel Messi, 2-1. The Saudi Arabian national anthem “Long Live Salman” was projected as Saudis danced their Ardah dance wrapping themselves in their flag. The Qatar Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani joined the celebrating Saudis, pleasantly surprising the citizens of Qatar with this overt gesture of re-uniting the once unfriendly countries. Recent relations with Saudi Arabia have recovered from a four-year split due to the belief that Qatar was supporting terrorists. However, Yemen is not shy in reminding the globe of the conflict taking place in their country, as the Saudi military is attempting to reclaim Yemen’s territory that has been overrun by Yemen’s Houthis. The conflict has been raging for the past eight years and has claimed roughly 377,000 people to hunger, disease, and direct fighting.