Coming together - Shawn Loughlin editorial
While soccer may not be the religious experience here in North America that it is in other parts of the world, there’s no denying that the World Cup is one of the world’s most important sporting events. The World Cup and the Olympics are really the two big ones that bring the world together, everything else is regional and more than half of the world couldn’t care less about it.
The World Cup began on the weekend in Qatar, a small Middle-Eastern country that had never before qualified for said World Cup. How the country came to host the event is a topic for another day, but there was certainly a lot of smoke around that decision, even if inquiry after inquiry have yet to find any fire. However, one of the things that really got the wheels in my brain turning is that the World Cup in Qatar has had people concerned for months about the safety of some people, whether they be players or fans, there.
The beauty of the World Cup and the Olympics have been their ability to bring the world together; people from all over, speaking different languages, but united by the universal language of sport. The dark side of bringing everyone together is the difference of lifestyles and ideologies that can clash when everyone is put together in one of the world’s rooms.
Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, one of the countries that employs sharia law. How safe then will it be for LGBTQ fans or players to attend the World Cup? Last month, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly came under fire for suggesting that gay soccer fans should “compromise” if attending the World Cup and “respect the host nation” in comments that were widely interpreted as tone-deaf. On the other hand, those attending the World Cup need to know what it’s like on the ground in Qatar and its rules against a sexual orientation that’s widely accepted the world over.
The country also has questionable women’s rights, with women in Qatar having to obtain permission from their male guardians to do everything from marry to travel abroad. Qatar also claimed it couldn’t secure the safety of Jewish soccer fans after failing to make good on agreements regarding Kosher food and public Jewish prayer services.
So, to say everyone will feel welcome at this year’s World Cup would be rather inaccurate.
Then, late last week, Qatar officials made the snap decision to prohibit the sale of alcohol at World Cup games to correspond with the country’s views on alcohol. This, however, snatches away a right of passage for most soccer fans who live for the experience of drinking a cold one while watching the game.
It’s not just the World Cup. In the last 20 years, the Olympics have been held in China twice and Russia once - both countries with questionable human rights records, at best, and dictators where elected leaders should be.
So, on its face, bringing the world together for a sporting event like the Olympics or the World Cup is a great thing and, most of the time, it likely lives up to that promise. But, in cases like Qatar, when some fans may not feel safe attending a game simply because of who they are, that exposes the dark side of bringing the world together for the enjoyment of sport.
If these past few years have taught us anything, it’s that you can never be quite sure where even some of your closest friends and family members stand on some issues and to what lengths they’ll go to defend a selfish or harmful ideology. When scaled up to the world stage, there are some very different ways of thinking out there and bringing them all together may, unfortunately, be a mistake.