I’m making a good-faith effort to watch the World Cup this year. But the world’s biggest sporting event is something of a shitshow this go-round. It’s being held for the first time in the Middle East, Qatar, a tiny authoritarian monarchy that borders on Saudi Arabia, smaller than the state of Connecticut.
It’s illegal to be gay in Qatar, illegal to have sex before marriage — they prosecute rape victims there. And while it is legal to drink, in private, it is illegal to be drunk, which is a huge problem at the World Cup, even after the monarchy decided against selling alcohol in the stadiums just as the tournament was starting. It was masterful bait and switch by Qatar, and one of the reasons the former FIFA head who made the decision to hold the cup there later called it “a bad choice.”
Oh, and about 6,500 migrant workers died since 2015 while constructing the stadiums for the World Cup.
Something interesting about Qatar: There are nearly 2.7 million residents, but only 300,000 or so actual citizens. The rest are migrant workers, sometimes called “expatriates” or “the labor force” because, though their bosses can confiscate workers’ passports and withhold pay, it is not, technically, slavery. But yes, they still have labor camps in Qatar. And they still flog people as an official means of punishment, like with a whip, in public.
But Qatar looks like Key West compared to China, where 1.4 billion residents have been living under a “zero COVID” policy since 2020, with mandatory masking and testing, frequent lockdowns and government quarantine centers. Outside the cities, drones fly around reminding people to wear masks and stay home. Its borders are closed to tourism.
The Chinese government, which controls all communications channels, televises the World Cup games on a 30-second delay so their people won’t see the maskless, celebratory throngs at the matches in Qatar. But footage that managed to seep through the government net — largely through social media — has shown the Chinese how the rest of the world has been living for the last couple years. And they’re starting to get pissed off about it.
On Tuesday, the US Men’s National Team defeated the squad from Iran 1-0. Before the game, outside the stadium, Iranian fans staged a small civil war of clashes between pro-government and protest groups while civil unrest simmers in Iranian cities, largely over women’s rights. In their opening game against England, the team did not sing their own national anthem in solidarity with the protesters back home. After their families were threatened with imprisonment, they gave a half-hearted effort before the US game.
On the bandwagon, the US Soccer Federation tweeted a version of the Iranian flag stripped of its Muslim words and imagery; in return Iranian soccer officials demanded that the US be thrown out of the tournament.
It was an Iranian reporter who pointed out on Monday that the United States can be counted among World Cup teams with human rights abuses. In a presser, he asked US Team Captain Tyler Adams, “Are you okay to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders?”
Adams, who is Black, had little to say in response.
Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.
We believe that reporting can save the world.
The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.
All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.