Protests sweep through the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

The 2022 FIFA World Cup, which kicked off in Qatar this week, has been met with controversy and criticism long before the event even got underway.

This year’s host country will be investigated for its history of human rights abuses and alleged bribery and corruption linked to FIFA, in addition to conditions surrounding the event itself, such as the injustices faced by migrant workers (including unexplained deaths) working on the construction the World Cup stadium and the infrastructure are responsible. Meanwhile, Qatar’s laws on homosexuality – same-sex relationships are illegal in the country and carry a penalty of up to three years in prison – have led to further convictions.

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These circumstances have simultaneously called into question the integrity of the global extravaganza, as well as its ambassadors and stakeholders. Qatar has been accused of sports washing, or the practice of countries hosting major events to exert influence, improve reputation and distract from a country’s condemned humanitarian or environmental practices.

Remarkably, a discourse on Western hypocrisy has emerged at the same time, and not just from FIFA President Gianni Infantino (who used his hour-long speech on the eve of the World Cup to brand European critics of the tournament as hypocritical in their calls for human rights). Others have written about the complexities of grappling with the trophy regardless of criticism, as well as football’s documented history of putting money over human rights.

For many, however, this ongoing back-and-forth has not eclipsed the heart of the problem. FIFA itself adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2016, which codify its responsibility to uphold human rights. Criticism of Qatar and the Football Association has sparked various protests, both on and off the pitch.

Here is a running list of protests being held against this year’s World Cup.

Germany players send a message

Germany’s players cover their mouths during the World Cup match between Germany and Japan in Qatar.
Photo credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

On November 23, German players covered their mouths with their hands during a team photo ahead of their World Cup opener, a game against Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium. “It was a sign, a message that we wanted to send out. We wanted to send the message that FIFA is silencing us,” said head coach Hansi Flick.

The team’s action comes days after FIFA banned players in Qatar from wearing rainbow bracelets. The bands are part of the OneLove campaign launched by the Dutch Football Association to fight against all forms of discrimination while emphasizing unity and a shared love of football among fans. The band has no direct mention of LGBTQ advocacy, but is covered in an array of colors – like a rainbow – and a heart, similar to symbols associated with LGBTQ rights.

In Qatar, many teams attempted to wear the ribbon as a message of solidarity with the LGBTQ community while playing in a country that criminalizes same-sex relationships. However, FIFA took action, citing the organization’s regulations on equipment such as armbands: “No item (playing kit or other clothing or equipment or otherwise) may be carried or used in a controlled area if FIFA deems it dangerous. is offensive or indecent, contains political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images, or otherwise does not fully comply with the rules of the game.” This apparently includes OneLove bands.

FIFA urged team captains to opt for bands created as part of their own “social campaign” instead. These bands included slogans such as “Football Unites the World”, “SaveThePlanet” and “NoDiscrimination”.

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“With our captain’s armband, we wanted to set an example for the values ​​that we represent in the German national team: diversity and mutual respect,” wrote the German team in a Twitter thread. “Denying us an armband is the same as denying us a vote. We stand by our position.”

Germany, alongside England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark and other European nations, have refrained from wearing the bands but have expressed displeasure. The German Football Association plans to take legal action against FIFA.

According to the manufacturer, OneLove bracelets are now sold out.

Wales flies rainbow flag

A rainbow flag with the Coat of Arms of Wales at Al Saad SC in Doha during the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

A rainbow flag with the Coat of Arms of Wales at Al Saad SC in Doha during the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Credit: NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images

Similarly, on November 23, Wales displayed rainbow flags at its training base in Qatar as a show of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. The team also planned to wear OneLove bands but were prevented from doing so.

Setback against David Beckham

David Beckham at the Khalifa International Stadium.

David Beckham during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match between England and IR Iran at Khalifa International Stadium.
Credit: Richard Sellers/Getty Images

Former England captain David Beckham is serving as an ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar – a role that has drawn criticism from human rights activists, fans and celebrities alike. The backlash stems from Beckham’s decision to be sponsored by Qatar for a reportedly whopping fee.

In protest, British comedian Joe Lycett pledged to shred £10,000 (or $11,000) if Beckham didn’t step down from his role before the World Cup. The ex-footballer took no such action – and Lycett appeared to crush the sum in a video posted online. In fact, the money wasn’t shredded, as Lycett later revealedbut donated to LGBTQ charities.

Lycet originally praised Beckham for being a “gay icon”: a reputation he’s held since the early 2000s, largely thanks to gracing a cover of gay lifestyle magazine attitude – the first professional footballer to be featured on the cover of the title – and sparked conversations about sex and football.

“The fall of David Beckham’s star was quick and hard” attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou wrote in a statement on Twitter. “It’s a reminder that it shouldn’t just be lip service to stand up not just for LGBTQ+ rights, but for women’s rights, migrant workers… and all human rights.”

“It’s not a trend to boost a person’s profile. Human rights are not a fashion statement that needs to be made to get coverage on the style pages of tomorrow’s magazines.”

Iranian players refuse to sing the national anthem

Iranian fans hold placards in stands ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Iranian fans hold signs of solidarity for the protesters.
Photo credit: Evrim Aydin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

While this was not a protest against Qatar or FIFA, the political message continued on the pitch as the Iran side declined to sing their national anthem ahead of their game against England. The action was in solidarity with anti-government protests in her home country; A spate of protests has swept the country following the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. Amini was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” in Tehran for allegedly not adequately covering her hair. Protesters were met with brutal violence across the country, prompting an imminent investigation by the United Nations’ top human rights body.

Inside the stadium, the Iranian soccer team was greeted by cheers and fans holding up signs reading “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Team captain Ehsan Hajsafi told reporters ahead of the game: “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy.”

This article will be continuously updated during the World Cup.

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