After the past month, there shouldn’t be any uncertainty left about what is the lingua franca in the field of sports. For over thirty days, sports fans from all over the world have gathered together to celebrate and support their national football teams to win the FIFA World Cup that is getting closer to its end in Russia.
And what could be better than knowing that by watching a match, you’ve suddenly become part of a bigger community? The broadcasting rights for the 2018 World Cup were sold to well over than one hundred countries, and along with the Summer Olympic Games, it is the most internationally attractive live event on television. It has been almost impossible to avoid pictures where the supporters of different teams pose to the camera together in a friendly way, wearing anything they can find with their national flag colors or extra-large sombreros (I am pointing at you, Mexicans!) in order to express their support to their country. These photos taken on the spot and spread by international newsrooms have been ideal to strengthen the image of global sports events bringing people together.
There is naturally nothing wrong with this image, quite the opposite. It has been refreshing to see pictures of funnily dressed fans filled with true joy, while it tends to be the fact that the majority of media coverage is dedicated to less cheerful topics such as political scheming and international human rights violations. However, it would be wrong to close one’s eyes from the fact that these two worlds are tied together more closely than it would be pleasant to admit.
Russia was appointed to host the 2018 World Cup in 2010 by a decision made by the FIFA organizing committee. The years that followed the host nomination have, unfortunately, left room for doubts on whether the hosts are receiving some undeservedly positive power due to the tournament. We’ve heard the list several times; the annexation of Crimea as well as military intervention in Syria make it self-evident that Moscow is getting more positive attention during the tournament than it has received in many years. It is appropriate and necessary to ask whether it is acceptable that the time when the whole world is, for once, peacefully united under a single event, the spotlight is growingly focused on geopolitical interests that are urged forward by using hard power. Even if the sport itself is disconnected from daily politics – and that is the way it should be -, it would be desirable to leave more room to the event rather than to the host.
We can find even more sources of insecurity that threaten the ideal where nations are given opportunities to gather together peacefully without accidentally having to take a stand on political issues, let alone quietly support corruption. Football is the most popular sport in the world, and the most profitable leagues around the sport make revenues that correspond to billions of US dollars per year. It is therefore not a surprise that the international governing body of this worldwide sport, the FIFA, holds significant powers. Strong authority should always be accompanied with a careful sense of responsibility, yet the organization has had some trouble with living up to these expectations in recent years due to serious corruption scandals. One of them, just to mention one example, is connected to the 2022 World Cup tournament that was given to Qatar. In addition to possible bribes involved, the organizing team of the country has been accused of mishandling migrant labour that works on the construction sites of the future World Cup venues. Something is not quite right when a regular football fan is forced to balance between buying a ticket to a sports game he or she has been waiting for a lifetime and pondering on whether seeing that match supports actions that should not be encouraged.
The good thing is that FIFA has a role model when it comes to organizing a meaningful tournament that can be looked back with satisfaction afterwards. The International Olympic Committee definitely doesn’t have a clean track record for corruption either, yet the latest Winter Olympic Games is a good example of how to steer the publicity brought by the international event to a direction that benefits more people than just the elite of the hosting country. Pyeongchang 2018 was branded as ’the Peace Olympics’. Even if the games were accused of hypocrisy and giving a free propaganda platform to North Korea, the idea that such multinational events should serve the common international good is the right path to follow. And ultimately the world got a good piece of news when it was announced that the US president Donald Trump and the leader of North Korea, Mr Kim Jong-un, would meet each other peacefully in the speculated aftermath of the Olympic games. Even if it is too early to draw far-fetched conclusions from the discussions that took place between these two heads-of-state in mid-June, in the best-case scenario the future history tellers can link the 2018 Olympics as part of a bigger continuum of increasing dialog between former hostiles. We can hope that similar improvement of worldwide good will be achieved between Mr Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin during talks that are scheduled to take place in Helsinki a day after the World Cup final.
Football is an irreplaceable asset to mankind. It is one of the rare things that connect people with drastically different backgrounds; children in poor developing countries and wealthy professional players, as well as nearly everyone in between, know how to kick a ball. It is a universal language than can have a stronger unifying effect than any citizenship or common tradition. Above all, it is far more than just a token in the game of those in power.
As the tournament is steadily coming to an end, it is more than important to switch on the TV and enjoy the final match before waiting for another four years for the next World Cup. Still, it is necessary to avoid closing our eyes from the faults that lie behind the glamorous surface; football and millions of its fans worldwide deserve ethically sustainable conditions to their favorite event. This beautiful sport is worth it.
Credits: Pixabay, the Epoch Time