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Politics Out Of Football Says The West, Unless It’s The Right Kind Of Politics

The Qatar 2022 World Cup has been the target of much controversy in recent months, with Western nations making things political. Whilst it was once the standard to bar politics in sport, it is now fine to include political messaging, except if your message violates Western government guidelines.

Despite FIFA, UEFA and the IOC’s explicit banning of political messaging, under most circumstances in the past, lately it seems that the age old saying “keep politics out of sports” is being completely discarded. Ukraine has recently called on FIFA, the world global football (soccer) governing body, urging it to ban the Iranian national team from the Qatar World Cup, with calls to replace Iran’s team with Ukraine. Kiev’s football federation officially requested that FIFA ban Iran from competing in the tournament.

Qatar itself has also become the target of Western ire, with concerns raised over Doha’s ban on LGBT+ Pride Flags being flown in their country, a nation which officially follows a conservative Salafi brand of Islam. In addition to this, in the name of Human Rights concerns French city representatives have stated that they will boycott the World Cup and will not set up ‘Fan Zones’ in public places, over immigrant worker abuses committed in Qatar. There has also been concerns voiced over the environmental impact that the usage of air-conditioners in Qatar may have.

To begin with, politics has never been separated from sports, nor will it ever be. By sheer virtue of almost every major sporting event featuring flags, national symbols and anthems, sporting events are political. You cannot separate the two when such symbols are used, especially when the military is often involved in sports, a common feature in the likes of the Barclays Premier League in the United Kingdom. Not only will players wear poppies every year, for fear of being lambasted by the media and crazed fans, but the actual UK military will even find itself situated inside stadiums for symbolic displays of nationalism before major football games are played.

The Premier League implemented taking a knee, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, as well as going so far as to print this onto the uniforms of players and plastering the logo over stadiums. As for the LGBT+ Pride Flag, this is plastered everywhere too. Historically, boycotting games of Cricket and Rugby with the former Apartheid government of South Africa was used as a means of applying pressure on that regime to change. The examples of political activism in sport are so numerous that it would take a long time to list all of them.

Yet the likes of FIFA and UEFA claim that politics are not allowed. This position is regularly agreed upon also by many leading voices in the world of football. For such displays of political solidarity with the Palestinian people during their times of suffering, these “rules” are consistently implemented. UEFA has imposed fines on Palestine solidarity on fans in stadiums, FIFA has also consistently sent the message that on the issue of Palestinian human rights “sports and politics don’t mix“, the Scottish football club Celtic were even fined 10,000 British pounds for their fans displaying Palestinian flags inside the stadium as a political message. Football players in the West have also been reprimanded and/or been dragged through the mud throughout Western media for their acts of solidarity with Palestinians.

The double-standards, therefore, are clear, in the West only the right kind of politics are permitted to be part of sports. As long as you don’t scorn Western governments or upset the status-quo by making a controversial political stand, politics are fine. A similar event occurred when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the US national anthem, before an American Football match, prompting a massive backlash. Back then a similar argument was made; to keep politics out of sports, yet nobody even took the time to consider that having the US national anthem played before every game is in of itself a form of political indoctrination. The knee was later used by establishment figures, in a way to hijack the very meaning of the action and to both politicize and commercialize it, but when Kaepernick first took this action it clearly hit a nerve.

When it comes to Ukraine’s football federation calling upon FIFA to ban Iran, whilst Western Liberals beg for Kiev’s national team to take their place, this demonstrates how far the double-standards truly go in the West. Not only did the Iranian national team work hard to qualify for the competition, one that Ukraine did not qualify for, but Iran’s team consists of players who have even taken stances against their government, specifically during the latest case of civil unrest inside the country. FIFA and UEFA may not have listened to the Ukrainians in the case of Iran, but they did decide to ban Russia from competing in the Qatar World Cup. So what happened to no politics in sports? Oh, yeah, I guess they made an exception, right?

As for Western governments feigning concern over Qatar’s human rights abuses, this has to be the most laughable hypocritical stance. French cities claim to be boycotting the World Cup for environmental and human rights concerns. Not only has France refrained from setting up ‘Fan Zones’, mostly over their concerns for preserving dwindling energy supplies, but Paris’ TotalEnergies just signed an agreement to inject 1.5 billion dollars into Doha’s oil infrastructure in September. Paris’s biggest football club, PSG, is also owned by Qatari Royals. What is also interesting is that a lot of the advocacy against Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, can be tracked back to a campaign first launched by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has a worse track record with human rights abuses than Qatar.

There is really no need to list the human rights abuses and warcrimes committed by Western governments, it is well known that the evils in which the Qatari government have involved themselves are nowhere near the scale of those committed by NATO member nations. All of this is to say, Western governments, corporations, and the public that found themselves wrapped up in the newest virtue signaling trend, all need to learn when to shut up. Either all political symbols are banned or all are allowed, either all flags are banned or all are allowed. You cannot simply pick and choose what politics are the right kind in a manner which is arbitrary, there also cannot be blatant double-standards, which is exactly what we are seeing here. This is a matter of freedom of speech and the West has begun to fall down a slippery slope into authoritarianism when it comes to this issue.

Robert Inlakesh
Robert Inlakesh is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, Middle-East analyst & news correspondent for The Last American Vagabond.

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