Not Just a Game: How the FIFA World Cup Is Influencing Global Politics

pitch invader urugay portugal gay pride qatar world cup

Bill Shankley, the legendary former manager of Liverpool FC, reportedly once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Well, for some countries, it indeed defines everything. Or at least, has done and will continue to do for as long as their teams remain in the ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup Tournament.

The current fixture has been characterised by upsets and surprises, with massive teams like Argentina and Germany losing in what were perceived to be walk-over games. Off the field though, the upsets and the outrage have already sparked diplomatic disputes, civil unrest, and even rioting.

Here’s how the world’s most-watched sporting event has been making headlines beyond the players and the points so far.

Israeli Journalists Are Having a Bad Time in Qatar

Videos have been surfacing online showing Israeli journalists in Qatar being shut down and shouted at over their country of origin.

Qatar, like most Middle Eastern states, as well as much of Africa and Asia, does not recognise Israel and has no diplomatic links to the country. For the World Cup, however, they have allowed direct flights from Israel for media and diplomats to attend the games.

Recent peace deals have seen more countries in the region opening up to Israel, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which both recognised Israel’s sovereignty in 2020. That appears not to have changed the minds of the local people, as well as fans from across the world, who are expressing their displeasure at the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people to journalists on the ground.

Israeli media has responded by saying that the World Cup in Qatar has rejected Israel and that Israelis shouldn’t attend. One Palestinian journalist has said that furthering this narrative of isolation in a sea of hatred is beneficial for Israeli authorities.

Palestinian academic and author, Dr Yara Hawari, has written that it’s “quite amusing that these journalists are shocked.”

“Did they think people would forget that the Israeli regime is practising apartheid?”

Pitch Invader Flies the Pride Flag

The tension over the host nation’s criminalisation of gay people has emerged once again on the pitch after a man hopped the fence at the Portugal-Uruguay game to wave the pride flag.

The man was quickly apprehended by security and led off the field.

He was also wearing a shirt with the Superman logo on the front and the phrase “save Ukraine” underneath it. The back of his shirt read “respect for Iranian women”. The bloke appeared to have hedged his bets by backing three very popular causes and the crowd did not seem upset about it.

“We know what has happened around this World Cup. It’s a normal thing to happen,” Portugal’s Rúben Neves said in response to the event.

“Of course, we are all with them as well. Iran as well, because I saw his shirt. I hope nothing happens to the boy because we understand his message and I think all the world understood it as well.”

The incident comes after teams, including England and Germany, were banned from wearing armbands featuring the pride and trans flags with the words ‘one love’.

Iran Demands the US Be Banned from the World Cup

The Iranian government has been having a nightmare of a time in their PR battle to not look like oppressive dictators.

Ongoing protests in Iran over the treatment of women have spilled out onto the world stage, with the Iranian men’s football team refusing to sing the national anthem before their game against England just one example of how the tournament has reflected badly on the national government.

There is even suggestion that the team will seek asylum after the tournament after a top Iranian player, who wasn’t in Qatar for the Cup, was arrested for criticising the government.

In the latest PR disaster, their old rivals the US, who they will be coming up against on the pitch on Wednesday, have edited a photo of their flag on social media in apparent support of women’s rights in the country.

Iran’s football federation has logged an official complaint with FIFA over “unprofessional” conduct carried out by the Americans who removed the central symbol in their flag in Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook posts. Removing the symbol, which is a stylised rendering of the Arabic word for Allah, has however been interpreted as a dig at the country’s religion.

“We wanted to show our support for the women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours,” the American football federation stated. The posts have since been deleted and the symbol restored.

FIFA Now Investigating “Aggressive” Serbian Nationalism

The Serbian football association has found itself under investigation by FIFA after photos surfaced online of a nationalist flag hanging in the team’s locker room before its match against Brazil.

The flag features a map of the Republic of Kosovo in Serbian colours and the phrase “no surrender”. This is controversial because Kosovo, a small nation to the south of Serbia in eastern Europe declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The United Nation’s recognises the sovereignty of Kosovo but Serbia still considers it a province of their country.

Kosovo’s Minister of Culture said the flag was a “hateful, xenophobic, and genocidal message”. The Serbian players said that they didn’t know the flag was there and that it had disappeared by the time they got back to the locker room. The Serbian football association has yet to comment.

Belgium Burns After Shock Loss to Morocco

Speaking of upsets, the World Cup delivered another major surprise in the form of a 2-0 loss to Belgium against underdogs Morocco.

Moroccan celebrations went a little bit too far in the Belgian capital of Brussels and neighbouring Holland, with reports of cars being set alight and pelted with bricks.

Around a dozen people have been detained. Unrest was also reported in Antwerp and Liege.

Both countries have sizable Moroccan populations.

China May Be Editing World Cup Footage to Avoid Showing Crowds

China is currently experiencing widespread civil unrest across a number of cities as frustrations with lockdown measures reach breaking point. The country is still pursuing a COVID-zero strategy, with travel restrictions, rolling lockdowns, and enforced quaratines in place.

Nearly three years since the pandemic began, people have had enough of it, with protests in the far north-western city of Ürümqi erupting on Friday which spread to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Chengdu over the weekend.

In an effort to keep citizens calm, the Chinese government appears to be live editing FIFA World Cup footage to cut images of large crowds. It has been suggested that this is being done to stop the Chinese people from seeing other nations gathering freely without restrictions.

There have also been claims that footage shown in China blurs crowds so as not to give the impression that the rest of the world has given up on masking.

Those claims have however been disputed by Newsweek and Chinese people on Twitter who say that no editing is going on.

“It appears that China is not censoring its World Cup streams, at least not on all of its state broadcast television services,” Newsweek reports.

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