Qatar’s World Cup, Controversy with a side of Football

Benedict Pignatelli for Distilled Post

This winter, the headlines are filled with news of Qatar. It is hard to go outside or look at something online without being hit by some news of the World Cup. The biggest sporting event on Earth, it is watched by over a billion people three times a decade.


The difference this time around is the news is seldom about the actual football - despite there being some fantastic games so far. This World Cup is saturated with controversy; bribes, corruption, last minute contract changes and suspicious refereeing are all on the headlines, not to mention the suppressing of gay rights and the deaths of unknown numbers of migrant workers in Qatar.


The Guardian reported as many as 6,500 migrant deaths during the construction of the stadiums. Unsurprisingly, Qatar has repudiated the claim, arguing there were only three work-related deaths at the sites. Much like their clearly fabricated stadium attendance statistics, these numbers seem a long way from reality. So bad has this World Cup been received that a survey in the UK found 39% of Britons believed England and Wales should not take part in the tournament. It goes to show the level of disgust at the deaths and other human rights violations, that a portion of theEnglish fanbase would be happy for it not to come home this year.

LGBTQ+ armbands - A rock and a hard place

Some of the latest news was Spurs and England Captain Harry Kane being told he couldn’t wear the LGBTQ+ armband before their first game against Iran. Once it was declared players were to be penalised for wearing the band, the idea was scrapped.


And so, Harry, as well as the other captains, at the beginning of the biggest tournament in football, were placed between Charybdis and Scylla. Not wearing the armband was met with criticism, with many people, Jamie Carragher and United Legend Roy Keane included - argued they should have taken the punishment to show their solidarity.


However, several others, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, argued they are there to play football, not enter into politics.


“I understand 100 per cent… but it’s not fair to talk now to the players and give responsibility to them because it’s more than 10 years ago that other people decided and we all accepted the decision (for Qatar to host)... These are the players. The tournament is in Qatar. The players go there and play the game. The decision was made by other people and if you want to criticise anybody then criticise the people who made the decision. Not the sport, not the competition and for sure, not the players.”

Fans angry, as usual

If we cast our minds back to 2021, Sancho, Rashford and a 19 year old Saka all received racist abuse for failing to score their penalties in the Euro final. Rashford had already received backlash for campaigning (successfully) for free school meals. Fans argued he should stick to football, despite him netting double figures for Man United that season.

Casting our minds back even further to the 1998 World Cup, a young David Beckham was sent off after he lashed out at David Simeone, and received death threats from England ‘fans’ as a result. Beckham wasn’t campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, but it does show how badly it goes down in England if you jeopardise an England win.


As much as people are enjoying calling Kane out now that Iran has been safely dispatched, surely if he had taken a booking or even been sent off, the response would have been furious - The England squad’s wobbly draw with the USA shows how easily a game can change course. These are the same fans who regularly boo the England team taking a knee in support of anti-racism, and have lamented their not being allowed to wear Crusader outfits to the games, for context. They aren’t known for their leniency and forward thinking.


Hugo Lloris, the French Captain, refused to wear an armband: “When we welcome foreign visitors to France we often would like them to respect our rules and our culture. I will do the same when I go to Qatar,"he said.


He went on to say he wanted to focus on football. Lloris was instrumental in France’s winning the tournament in 2018. Although it is great to see players and high profile celebrities taking a stand, no one can blame the French captain for wanting to focus on the football.


Eden Hazard commented on Germany covering their mouths as a protest statement before their game, arguing they should have focused on winning (Germany controversially lost to Japan),rather than politics.


And the debate continues.

Do players have a responsibility?

The question is not a new one, but perhaps it has never been more in the public eye. One one side, the stance of athletes like Muhammad Ali, who was very vocal about the civil rights movement, racism and religion throughout his career, using his platform to educate and encourage people to change.


On the other side, athletes like Michael Jordan. A phenomenally successful athlete who preferred to steer clear of politics and controversy, and focus on his job.


Both viewpoints obviously hold water, and the players should indeed look to their career and their job first and foremost. However, with players like C. Ronaldo sporting half a billion followers on Instagram, it seems ridiculous to ignore the massive influence and reach available to these superstars.


Gareth Southgate argued the decision to ban the arm band should have been sorted out well in advance, rather than mere hours before the game. It may be cynical, but Southgate and his team are there to try and win the world cup, and Southgate seems to be arguing this needs to come first.

On the subject of the World Cup being held in Qatar, FIFA argued teams should “focus on the football”, rather than “handing out moral lessons.” There will no doubt be further controversy as the tournament continues, and it will be interesting to see whether England or any other team continue to show support for the treatment of workers and theLGBTQ+ community. Hopefully there will be some football sprinkled around the drama.

Incidentally, the only person to follow through and wear a rainbow armband during England’s opening game was commentator and former England defender Alex Scott, who kept it on from her position on the sideline. Once again the England women outshine their male counterparts.