Sports | November 4, 2022 1:55 pm

Could FIFA’s “Please No Politics” Letter Be More Out of Touch?

Once again, world football's spineless governing body refuses to take a stand

A view of Qatar's new World Cup stadiums as the sun sets in the background.
Over 6,500 migrant workers died building Qatar's shiny new stadiums.
(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

According to a letter obtained by Sky News, FIFA has zero tolerance for protests, objections or introspection of any kind heading into the Qatar World Cup.

Across a few astonishingly out-of-touch paragraphs, Gianni Infantino — the acting head of world football’s long-embattled governing body — begged the 32 countries set to compete in the tournament to “focus on the football” and refrain from “handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world.”

Infantino, along with secretary general Fatma Samoura, wrote: “We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”

The letter continues on: “One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity. No one people or culture or nation is ‘better’ than any other. This principle is the very foundation stone of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And this is also one of the core values of football. So, please let’s all remember that and let football take centre stage.”

As much as these lines boggle the brain, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that a notoriously corrupt and spineless institution is terrified of players and journalists shedding a light on the many accounts of extreme injustice swirling around this $200 billion fixture.

There’s almost too much to choose from: the host country’s abusive Kafala system; its treatment of LGBT people (homosexuality is illegal in Qatar); the unscrupulous means by which a country smaller than Switzerland — with virtually no world football history and oppressive weather — was selected in the first place; Iran’s brutal response to the Mahsa Amini protests; or its arming of Russia in the FIFA-suspended nation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Infantino’s warning against FIFA members “dragging” the conversation into “political battles” conveniently ignores that it was FIFA that dragged all its members to embattled Qatar in the first place. In preemptively scolding the field for disrespecting “diversity” and acting “superior,” FIFA’s behaving as if some countries are claiming they have tastier cuisine than others. It’s an unworthy and willfully ignorant response to an important issue.

Countries like Denmark, which will wear all-black “mourning” kits in honor of the migrant workers who lost their lives, or the eight nations whose captains will wear rainbow-colored armbands in support of the LGBT community, aren’t on some high-falutin’ quest for moral high ground. They don’t think they’re “better” than other cultures. They’re demanding that Qatar be better. They’re forcing FIFA to reckon with its decision-making…and match the $440 million prize money in compensation for the abuses inflicted to build seven glittering stadiums — all of which will sit empty and forgotten by New Years Day.

You can’t blame the players for the lot they’ve been given. Some of them, like the United States national team’s Brenden Aaronson, were in the seventh grade when FIFA got in bed with Qatar. They’re living out a lifelong dream to represent their country. But this time around, it means having to enter a geopolitical maelstrom.

These players have no responsibility to speak against the human rights records of nations involved in this tournament. As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told Sky News, “They go there to play football. It’s not about this generation’s players to say now that ‘we don’t go, or we don’t do that’. The decision [to hold the tournament in Qatar] was made by other people, and if you want to criticize anybody, criticize the people who made the decision.”

He’s right. It’s not their job. But when everyone else is willing to take the easy, pockets-padding way out, who’s even left? It takes an uncommon level of courage to do the right and risky thing. You don’t have to admire a player who says, posts or wears something to protest human rights abuses during the World Cup. But the least any of us — and that certainly includes goddamn FIFA — is stop short of admonishing them.