Bringing human rights into focus at the World Cup

Karen Mogami/The Miscellany News.

Every four years, the world is united for the only global fútbol tournament: the FIFA World Cup. As with every other aspect of life, the pandemic and rising political instability around the world have taken a toll on the widely-anticipated global competition. 

A new Netflix series, “FIFA Uncovered,” takes a deep dive into the power struggles and global politics necessary for FIFA to hold such a prestigious tournament. Undoubtedly, issues of corruption and political interference have interfered with the enjoyment of the game we all love. And no, I am not referring to American football (The Super Bowl: 100 million viewers. The World Cup: 3.6 billion viewers, according to Statista.)

But as the global economy slowly recovers from pandemic times, political uproar has sparked a rise in voices around the world. In China, protests have rocked President Xi Jinping and his zero-COVID policies. Young crowds are wondering just how far to push for their freedom, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. 

In Iran, conservative Sunni women are joining progressive protestors against the brutal oppression of women in the country, a result of the killing of a 22-year-old woman last year. According to Al Jazeera, “[A]s Iran competes in the 2022 World Cup, politics are on the pitch.”

And while the pandemic has been on the decline for a while now, this juxtaposition between politics and sports has been reignited with Qatar’s already controversial World Cup, given allegations of corruption and human rights violations, according to Reuters.

In a highly controversial speech, FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended Qatar, saying, “Reform and change takes time. It took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is by engaging … not by shouting.” Human rights groups have since spoken out against FIFA and Qatar’s reportedly dangerous conditions for migrant workers, according to CNN. 

Perhaps no moment of tension was more direct than when an Iranian journalist confronted Captain of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team’s (USMNT) Tyler Adams, who identifies as Black, at a press conference before the teams faced off in a vital Game Three of the Group Stages. 

According to Newsweek and multiple other outlets, the Iranian journalist said, “First of all, you say you support the Iranian people, but you’re pronouncing our country’s name wrong,” Javanmardi said. “Our country is named ur·aan, not eye·ran. Please, once and for all, let’s get this clear.” Then, he asked Adams, “Are you OK to be representing the U.S., meanwhile, there’s so much discrimination happening against Black people in America?”

While the journalist put Adams in a spot that tokenized him and aimed to take advantage of his position, he does indirectly bring up a valid point about human rights abuses: They should be condemned everywhere.

We have a tendency, especially in the West and the United States, to point out the errors of other countries, while failing to acknowledge our own history of slavery and oppression. There’s an urgency to address the historical lack of reparation and action against the racism and abuses ingrained in our country. 

Adams’ response to the journalist was brilliant and deeply respectable: In short, he said, “[In the U.S.], we’re continuing to make progress every single day.” If you haven’t seen the interaction between the two, I highly encourage you to do so. Their comments should be used like a guide for international cooperation against inhumane conditions of any sort. 

But what is helpless is the United States’ performative social justice—in the form of altering the Iranian Flag to remove the word “Allah” from the center in a tweet of their group standing, according to NPR. 

Besides angering many Iranians, who called for the United States to be disqualified from the tournament, the action did very little to change the course of events. The tweet was removed. Iranians are still suffering from an authoritarian regime. Americans are no more aware of the issues at stake than they were before. As Adams described to the Iranian journalist: “[O]bviously it takes longer to understand and through education, I think it’s super important. Like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country.” It’s not wrong for the United States to seek to assist those fighting for equal rights, but it must be done leading by example.

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