So let’s start by getting the elephant out of the room: The Fifa World Cup is taking place in Qatar because FIFA is corrupt. The bribery that took place in awarding Qatar the 2022 tournament is nothing new to FIFA and world soccer; it’s the precedent they set long ago. The awarding of the cup to South Africa, Brazil, Russia and Qatar can all be traced back to bribery, corruption and FIFA’s geopolitical power.
Aside from the winter timing, what feels most different about this World Cup in Qatar, is that these stadiums were built using the Kafala system’s slave labor. While Qatari officials have denied numerous allegations, an investigation by The Guardian has estimated there have been over 6500 migrant worker deaths in constructing the stadiums, as well as countless cases of unpaid wages and condemnable living conditions.
I’ve heard the arguments suggesting outsiders need to respect the Qatari culture, and I try to do that. I respect that this is the first World Cup in the Middle-East. I respect La’eeb, the floating ghutrah mascot, I respect that Qatar is a dry nation and does not wish there to be alcohol sales, I even respect the need for the World Cup to take place in the winter, a necessity for this region of the world due to the harsh summer climate. But I draw the line at Human Rights Violations. I could write an entire article about FIFA’s corruption and Qatar’s history of human rights abuses, but I’d like direct my focus elsewhere.
To be clear, the purpose of this article is not to demean anyone for choosing to watch or boycott the world cup. To those of you boycotting, I fully respect your decision. FTW writer, Anders offered a great look into his personal boycott of this tournament. Check it out here: https://www.fearthewall.com/2022/11/22/23468958/my-personal-boycott-of-the-fifa-world-cup-2022
Despite the controversies, I still choose to watch the World Cup
The Players & The Fans
Who are the winners of the World Cup? FIFA, Global Corporations, Qatar, Gianni Infantino. But where does that leave the players and the fans? The players and the fans; these two groups have absolutely no input into where the World Cup will be held. For most players, representing their country at a World Cup is a dream come true. These athletes worked hard to make their Nation’s team and qualify for the cup. I choose to watch out of respect for these players. It was a joy to see Mario Götze return to the German team and it’s been incredibly fun watching Jude Bellingham tear up the field for England.
I watch for the players I’ve never heard of, like Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos who has shown the world he’s currently a stronger Portuguese striker than Christiano Ronaldo. I watch for the upsets! Japan wins Group E, Morocco downs Spain in a Penalty Shootout, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa saves a Robert Lewendowski Penalty, Belgium crumbles after I predict they’ll win the cup. Players wear their nation’s jersey with pride as they’re thrust into the global spotlight, attracting the attention of world leaders. It must feel surreal for the USA team members to receive a call from President Joe Biden ahead of their opening match in Qatar.
I watch for the fans. I laugh at the Ecuadorians’ “we want beer” chant. I think of the children I once worked with in Costa Rica, how they’d crowd around a single television to cheer on Los Ticos. I imagine those children grown now, watching the same match at the same time as me, and I smile, admitting I was rooting for Costa Rica in their match against Germany. I celebrate when I see the South Korean fan-parties erupt in cheers as they reach the last sixteen and I share the heartbreak of every fan who watches their country eliminated from the tournament. I hyped myself up for USA with the belief that we will win… I believed that we would win... but we didn’t.
The United States Soccer Story
I grew up in a country that values American Football, Basketball and Baseball above any other sport. I’m tired of people explaining how “exciting” an American football game is with commercials every two minutes, while complaining how “boring” soccer is. Yet somehow, when the World Cup is on, everyone becomes a soccer fan. I first experienced this in 2010, when team USA ignited a love for soccer that persists in me today. In 2014 I thought soccer was increasing in popularity in the states as I entered bars packed full of fans rooting for the USA, but as soon as the Americans defeated by Belgium in the last sixteen, all the hype faded away. That hype from 2014 has only just returned.
European qualification may be tough, but CONCACAF qualifying is frequently underrated. The away matches in Central America and the Caribbean are not as easy as they may sound. That being said, I still can’t believe the US failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia. Christian Pulisic’s face after that fateful qualifying loss in Trinidad and Tobago expressed the emotions shared by every US soccer fan. I followed this team through ups and downs and watched nearly every qualifying match of the past three cycles. I’ve been strapped into the roller-coaster of US soccer for too long to let go.
I thought Greg Berhalter was a poor choice as manager, but I decided to give him a chance when he successfully led this squad to World Cup qualification. I still question if he’s the right choice, but that’s part of being a fan. I follow through highs and lows and understand that these Americans had no say in this tournament venue. Boycotting this tournament could harm the growing popularity of soccer in the USA. We need Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie to inspire the young athletes in America to not only watch soccer, but also play it. Over 300 million people live in this country, so the talent pool is enormous. Now imagine Team USA if the sport of soccer becomes as popular as the other American mainstays.
I’ve seen the likes of McKennie, Adams, Pulisic and more recently, Gio Reyna play in the Bundesliga as youngsters who offer optimism for the future of Soccer in America. Yet the best way to raise popularity is by qualifying for the World Cup, the biggest stage in World. I was heartbroken that the USA was absent from the 2018 cup, but I was proud when they qualified for 2022. Just as I’ve grown and matured in the last four years, so too has this USA squad. A draw to Wales, a draw to England and a nervy victory over Iran sent the USA deservedly into the round of sixteen where they were comprehensively defeated by the Dutch. The USA had the second-youngest squad at the cup, and these players ARE the future of US Soccer. The USA has an impressive home-record as well, which gives me further optimism when considering our chances in 2026. Soccer has a long way to go in gaining popularity in the USA, but we’re experiencing the rising action of US Soccer, the climax of which will take place at home in 2026. We cannot afford to ignore Team USA’s performance in Qatar if we are to continue developing soccer ahead of the 2026 World Cup.
It’s funny, I’ve always rooted for Germany once the USA is eliminated. I definitely hadn’t anticipated that the USA would ultimately go farther than the Germans. Yet from watching all six of these group games, I can confidently suggest that the USA is a better team than Germany at the moment, even if the Germans have more talent.
The World Cup Does Unite People (But not how Infantino suggests)
The World Cup is the highest viewed sporting event in the world. The 2018 World Cup in Russia had a staggering 3.57 billion viewers. That’s half the world! If we take a moment and ignore the commercial agendas of television rights, we can consider this unique phenomenon that only happens once every four years. Half the world directs their attention at a single event. How many times have you looked at the moon and wondered who else is looking at then moon at that same moment? The World Cup connects people.
One thing I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of weeks has been the communications I’ve had with friends watching the tournament. Every day, messages are exchanged between a group chat I’m in with the very people I watched 2014 qualifying with, all crammed into a fraternity house bedroom. It’s exciting to follow the tournament and exchange thoughts and opinions with friends who are usually busy supporting Arsenal or Chelsea but we’re all cheering on the Americans and watching as many exciting matchups as possible. Life has seen us move to different locations yet we’re all still transfixed when it comes to the World Cup.
It’s fun to make baseless predictions about the tournament. For those of you participating in Fear The Wall’s bracket challenge… you’ve likely scored higher than me. But isn’t it fun to see how wrong we all are?
I watch so that I’m aware of what is happening both on the pitch and off. FIFA and Qatar’s last-minute ban against the One-Love campaign angered many, but this just highlights the powerlessness that the players feel. For those watching, FIFA would suggest the German team’s mouth-covering photo protest had a greater impact on their performance than Hansi Flick’s tactical miscalculations. I watched the Iranian players refuse to sing their national anthem, their fans booing and jeering while stadium speakers played it. I’ve even seen the censored videos of matches broadcast in China, where no unmasked fans are shown in attendance. I’ve read about the thousands of facial-recognition cameras in Qatar’s stadiums in what provides a glimpse into dystopia. The World Cup is a massive event, it’s no wonder powerless players wish to use it as a stage for protest. This is how the World Cup has always been and this is how it will continue to be until enough fans, players, corporations and Football Associations take action to ensure World Soccer can continue without detriment to any peoples.
But for now, I watch in spite of FIFA, not because of them.
The Love of Soccer
I recently finished reading a book called Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. First published in 1997, this book chronicles selected events throughout the modern history of Soccer. From Galeano, I’ve learned that FIFA has been corrupt since its beginning. Yet what struck me as most profound in his writing, is that despite FIFA, Galeano maintained a devout love for the beauty of soccer, which rises above FIFA. He described West Germany’s 1954 World Cup victory as a symbol of “national resurrection,” as it was the first cup they were allowed to play after World War II. Galeano is awe-struck by the brilliance of Englishman Bobby Charlton’s ability to dribble through Argentine defense in the 1962 cup. It’s Eduardo Galeano’s love of soccer that kept him watching.
When else would we have the opportunity to watch Morocco play Canada, or Ghana play South Korea? Confederation tournaments highly limit the competitive fixtures outside of the World Cup. The USA plays against CONCACAF competition all the time, but how often does it play European or African opponents? The unlikely matchups are so much fun to watch, especially from a neutral perspective.
I watch for the passion. When Achraf Hakimi scored the Winning penalty to send Spain home, Hakimi ran to the stands and gave his mother a big hug. Meanwhile, Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou has been hailed as a national hero for his Penalty saves. I watch for the Bundesliga players making international names for themselves, like Japan’s Daichi Kamada and Ritsu Doan. I watch for the Dortmund players trying to make an impact at the stage of their dreams. Gregor Kobel was vital in Switzerland’s 3-2 win over Serbia, Rapha Guerreiro was instrumental in Portugal’s Round of 16 victory, Jude Bellingham has started each of England’s matches, Gio Reyna was finally given a chance against the Netherlands and Julian Brandt has kept Germany’s bench quite warm.
There is a certain beauty to soccer, with all the adrenaline-fueled energy that national teams exude throughout this month-long tournament. The World Cup brings about some of the best soccer matches we will ever know, and I watch so that I’m part of that story. I watch for the memories of how one team will claim the title of best soccer nation in the world… Until we do it all again in 2026.