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The World Cup Capitulates to Islamic Fundamentalism

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Qatar fans inside the stadium before the World Cup soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday.Credit: KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

The 2022 World Cup will be remembered as a watershed moment in the West’s surrender to Islamic fundamentalism. Fundamentalism looked straight ahead, and the West bowed its head. The events of this week are an accelerating hazing ritual. The reasons for capitulation are always the same. On the one hand, greed, and on the other, loss of faith in the rightness of the way, reluctance to engage in a forceful confrontation and an unwillingness to pay the price that the fight for principles entails.

A good example is the ban on drinking beer in the stadiums. The issue itself is not critical; the problem is that the decision was made two days before the start of the tournament, “at the request of the Qatari royal family.” At stake here were the individual rights of Joe from Birmingham, Heinrich from Dusseldorf and Cristina from Buenos Aires. A great many soccer fans who spent their savings on the games, and at the last minute their leisure habits were disrupted. Had Qatar made it clear in advance that there would be no place for beer and LGBTQ people at the tournament it sought to host, even the enormous bribes showered on the decision-makers would not have sufficed.

The question is always who blinks first, and this was a golden opportunity to stay the course. What exactly would the Qataris have done if their brazen demand had been rejected? This is also true, of course, for the farce of the anti-discrimination OneLove armbands that team captains planned to wear as a protest. These global superstars spoke loftily about human rights and equality, until FIFA warned that they would be punished with a yellow card for wearing the rainbow-hued armbands. In other words: These are my principles, and if you threaten to show me a yellow card, I have others. It’s hard to describe the hypocrisy of the international soccer governing body, which with one hand clung to its ban on “political armbands” and with the other hand distributed “anti-racism” armbands. It would have been appropriate to put FIFA to the test by having all 22 players take the field in the colors of pride, but that would have required a bit of courage and solidarity.

Everything has already been said about the 6,500 foreign construction workers who died building the stadiums. In any case, no one has far-reaching humanitarian expectations from global sports enterprises. The previous World Cup was held in Russia, the Winter and Summer Olympics in Beijing; Hitler hosted the “Nazi Olympics” in Berlin and the murderous generals of Argentina’s junta whitewashed their crimes by hosting the 1978 World Cup. By the way, the world’s greatest soccer player, Johan Cruyff of the Netherlands, boycotted the latter in protest, four years after bringing his team within inches of the trophy. Now look at the current Dutch captain, Virgil van Dijk, who turned tail at the sight of a yellow card.

Added to the West’s humiliation was a characteristically ridiculous ceremony meant to burnish the conscience: The players of England’s national team knelt for one and a half (!) seconds, in what their head coach described as “a strong statement that will go around the world … that inclusivity is very important.” But inclusivity is not advanced by kneeling. Just compare it to the players of their rival team, Iran: United, they declined to sing the national anthem out of solidarity with the protest of their people, knowing that they and their families may pay a concrete price for it.

Belgian soccer fans sporting #OneLove T-shirts in the stands during the 2022 World Cup in QatarCredit: Martin Meissner/AP

Fundamentalism, in all religions, is insatiable. That’s its nature. When no limits are set, it spreads and wants more. The Qataris deny entry even to fans whose clothes sport a hint at the rainbow flag. Who knows, maybe from the next stage they’ll demand hijab and sex segregation in the stands. FIFA President Gianni Infantino summed it up well in his infantile response to criticism: “I know what it feels like to be discriminated [sic]. … At school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. We’re just ganging up on Qatar. For what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”

This is exactly how the West will be defeated: First they surrender to big money, then they ingratiate themselves in the name of pluralism, and in the end, out of an endless wallowing in guilt feelings, they find justification for submission and cowardice.

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