Football is no doubt the world’s most popular and beloved sport. The ‘beautiful game’ has gifted us with amazing sporting feats, connecting the world and enthralling those who choose to participate in its splendour. However, for the simple fact it is the world’s game we must question how football, and more specifically FIFA, utilises its vast and powerful sphere of influence.

The FIFA World Cup is football’s showpiece event and the 2014 edition in Brazil was watched by over 3.2 billion, with 1 billion watching the final. Over time the spectacle has evolved into a more commercial beast apt for the current age. An event capturing the imaginations of millions and now billions of people is the current (fitting) identity of the World Cup.

World Cup 1934
The Italian team performing a fascist salute before the 1934 World Cup Final, at the Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome, Italy, 10th June 1934. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It’s 20/20

Hindsight allows use to reference the past and point to missed opportunities and belatedly learn from mistakes made. The World Cup held in Italy under Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1934 – much like the Olympics held in Berlin under the rule of Adolf Hitler in 1936 – was utilised to glorify, popularise, and legitimise an oppressive regime. It is now known how much bribery and corruption took place. All these helped to grease the wheels as Italy claimed their first title on home soil. Hindsight indeed. Though, given the nature of the Italian regime and the character of Mussolini at the time the warning signs were apparent.

We move to the 1978 World Cup held in Argentina, commonly dubbed the World Cup that should ‘never have been played’. It should be noted that the setting was chosen in 1966, well before the military coup in 1976 and the tournament itself. However, there were still two years sandwiching the overthrow of the government and the competition. There were two years of mysterious disappearances, of torture of political dissidents, and of concentration camps. The tournament drew marked comparisons with the 1934 edition and with the 1936 Berlin Olympics for high suspicions of those greasing tactics. In the end, Argentina (maybe unsurprisingly) won their first title on home soil.

1978 world cup
1978 World Cup Final, Buenos Aires, 25th June 1978, Argentina 3 v Holland 1 (after extra time), The giant scoreboard shows Argentina as the 1978 World Champions (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

These examples show not only how the competition can be manipulated, but how it could be argued that there is a blatant lack of care shown from the governing body to the host country’s citizens no matter their hardships. They also show the opportunity the World Cup can have to make a stand against the less favourable elements of the world. This brings us to look to the future and the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar.

Nothing has changed

The transgressions and human rights abuses perpetrated during Qatar’s preparation for the competition, as well as the corruption involved in FIFA have been well publicised over the past few years. Those most notable are:

  • Migrant workers being unable to leave country and being stripped of passports and other identification.
  • Substandard living facilities in labour camps.
  • Denying of wages.

Human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly spoken out against the treatment of the (mainly Nepalese and Indian) workers, essentially being ‘modern day slaves’. Even with the supposed reforms by the Qatari government, on average, one person per day dies working on World Cup preparations. This is in conjunction with the country’s stance on homosexuality which is illegal, and the recent classification of Qatar by other Arab nations as a state sponsor of terrorism.

There are just under five years to the World Cup in Qatar. Of course, much can change in that period. Should that matter? Haven’t enough men and women died? It is known that FIFA is a dysfunctional and often untrustworthy organisation. However, fans must also look introspectively. Should the venue of the 2022 World Cup be upheld with the multitude of issues continuing, there’s still no doubt the tickets will still be sold out. Viewership will be just as high or maybe even higher than previous editions. This is a call for recognition of what the beloved game stands for. Football fans, the companies that sponsor, and hosts of other stakeholders as a collective will be complicit in the suffering of thousands.

Unless something is actively done we will see once again another missed opportunity and the sport will be worse for it.