Soccer Without Borders, But Not Without Profits

In November 2022, in the lead up to the World Cup, soccer fans in Berlin protested at games with sings that had messages like "More deaths than minutes of football," "Thousands dead," and "Fuck you FIFA."

November 28, 2022, Editorial of the Workplace Newsletters of the Etincelle fraction of the NPA, Translated from French

The World Cup has had a turbulent start, not only because of the defeat of the Argentinian national team against Saudi Arabia, or the injury of the “golden ball” winner, Karim Benzema, but also because of the conditions: bribery, ecological insanity, human rights scandals, and more. There is no doubt that this World Cup 2022 is already one of the most contested in the history of soccer. And politics has been a major part of the tournament, with symbols, hopes, but also political cover-ups and hypocrisy — including that of French President Macron, who is planning to go to Doha even after saying that sports should not be “politicized.”

Nearly out of bounds

The first week of the competition has been one of increasing symbolic postures. The English team kneeled “against inequality and racism.” Iranian players refused to sing their national anthem, while some Iranian fans showed support of the Iranian protests occurring since the death of Mahsa Amini, and the fierce repression that has already claimed more than 400 Iranian victims. The German team held their hands over their mouths to protest FIFA’s prohibition of wearing rainbow armbands, to stand with the LGBTQ community. FIFA claimed the armbands would be a great affront to Qatar, the host country, which criminalizes homosexuality. This political symbolism is obviously limited while somewhat courageous, but has made headlines around the world. And the French Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, urged the French players, who have complied with FIFA’s demand to not make political waves, to take advantage of their “spaces of freedom” in order to display “French values.” We would like to know which values she is speaking of?! Is she defending Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Filipino workers who died on the construction sites of Eiffage, Bouygues or Vinci, French construction companies contracted in Qatar? On this point, French President Macron has kept displaying his support for the Qatari petro-monarchy, claiming that “concrete changes” are taking place.

Hypocrisy and a cup of corruption

Obviously, in this capitalist world, soccer is very political, bringing together considerable economic and financial interests. This tournament will cost 212 billion euros (223 billion U.S. dollars), 95 more than the 1998 games that took place in France. The first aspect of the game, for which Qatar showed great talent, was the competitive shenanigans to host the event. There is talk of an infamous dinner at the end of 2010 during which the Emir of Qatar, the former French President Sarkozy, the French football administrator Michel Platini, and some others swapped France’s support, an arms contract, the sale of the TV rights at the championship, and the purchase of Paris Saint-Germain F.C. (French soccer club)! That made for a tasty dish, what with French gastronomy and the Emirati business sense. Washed down with Gianni Infantino’s sponsorship, president of FIFA and a Qatari resident to boot: what a perfect pairing for the dish! You would think we were in the movie The Godfather!

Money rules in the kingdom of the soccer ball

This whole business stinks of money. For France, almost all the big companies have interests in Qatar — Total Gas of course, and then Dassault aeronautics, and Bouygues engineering, too, so of course the environment and human rights are barely a memory.

Qatar is on trial, and its advocates, such as French soccer manager Zinédine Zidane (even after all he’s done for France) are well entangled in the controversy. It is difficult, however, to pass off the death of thousands of our fellow workers on the construction sites of the stadiums as a simple “controversy.” For 64 matches, 6,500 dead: this is indeed a crime, representative of the way Qatar (no more, but no less than other states) treats workers, primarily migrants and expatriates, who have come to build these stadiums in order to help their families survive, in exchange for wages of no more than 300 euros a month.

Thus, with money at the heart of the capitalist system, the World Cup can’t just be a great international celebration around a sport played on all continents by the poor and the workers. One day the World Cup will take place with capitalism gone for good, but this time once again, it’s a red card to all those who pull the strings!