Friday , 3 February 2023

World Cup or World Corruption?

When Iran’s football team met England at their first match of this World Cup the Iranian players refused to sing the national anthem in support of the ongoing anti-regime protests back home. This act of solidarity and political courage should not be taken lightly since actions like these are met with fierce repercussions against the players themselves or their families in their country. In the next match against Wales Iran’s football team were seen singing the national anthem half-heartedly for which they have received much criticism. Many may argue that sports should not be made political and just be enjoyed as entertainment, but like other forms of entertainment sports and politics are inevitably intertwined which sports history has displayed many times. However, the difference between Colin Kaeprenick taking his knee during the national anthem as a protest against racism compared to the refusal of the Iranian football players during this World Cup is immense, as the Iranians do not enjoy freedom and democracy at home. But during all this media attention another situation develops which should be more debated and that is the action of FIFA which has said ahead of the tournament that all teams should focus on football and not World affairs. Staying true to their words FIFA threatened to impose sporting sanctions on those who would take part in the One Love armband protest in support of the LGBTQ+ communities and the lack of human rights in the host nation Qatar. German football players decided to protest FIFA’s rule by covering their mouths in a team photo taken ahead of their game against Japan. And much to the point the German team said it was not about politics it was about human rights which are nonnegotiable. It is absurd that a mafia like organization, referred to as “The Enterprise” by the U.S Department of Justice when the corruption scandal was uncovered, dictates how people should behave. The decision to impose sanctions on football players raising their voices against corruption and human rights violations made clear that the corruption runs deep in the organization and has no intention of changing its direction. Nations and players will continue to speak out against human rights abuses to the dismay of corrupt governments and organizations. Criticism should be placed where it belongs, sportsmen and women do their part but organizers have larger responsibility and should be held accountable for their violations.

German football team players covering their mouths as they pose for a team photo (courtesy of Reuters).

The Iranian regime claims it has little interest in the World Cup and other sports but their actions speak otherwise, fans attending the World Cup in Qatar have been prevented and harassed because of their support of the nationwide protests. Security agents and supporters of the current authoritarian regime have intimidated and threatened fans without being held responsible. Meanwhile Ayatollah Khamenei praised the win over Wales and said that the football team had made the country happy during the same speech he also praised the Basiji forces for confronting “rioters” (protesters) who are following guidance from Western countries, particularly the U.S. The forceful crackdown of the anti-regime protests have killed 448 people including 63 children and nearly 20000 protesters have been arrested and are now facing the death penalty without trial. Still, the government finds time to harass athletes and fans abroad but the fact that they are allowed and even supported in these activities by the hosting country and FIFA is more troublesome. The corruption of FIFA is not only related to a few individuals in its executive committee but it is infused in the whole organization and therefore the world (read audience) should ask themselves if this is acceptable and worth the entertainment they receive for what is a football player without his/her fans and what is FIFA without its football players?