World Cup and Politics: The ugly stain on the Beautiful Game

June 22, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER , Sport

AFP photo



Ahmed Tharwat



Every four years, the month of June becomes a month of magic and spectacle around the world. It’s FIFA World Cup time! And for millions of people around the world, and a few lonely Americans, football is the only game in town. It is for some a religion and a divine gift from above.


In Egypt, shops, churches, and mosques close, at work people use all their sick days to stay home to watch the games, coffee shops are open all day and night for the game; the only time where the military regime let people in to gather and watching the game in public squares and coffee shops. People in Muslim countries even postpone their daily prayers until after the game. God can wait, but goals won’t.


Sadly, the beautiful game has been stained by dirty politics and corruption and has become a platform for a makeover of dictators’ image.


Sports and politics are no longer separate entities, but are merging into big business and a big spectacle,.Russia spent more than $14 billion on the World Cup, 2018, Brazil more than $15 billion in 2014. The purity of the beautiful game has been stained by the political agendas of sports organizations also.


The NFL brought politics into sport by “honoring the flag,” using military color guards and making the singing of the national anthem a mainstay of a sporting event. Using these symbols, Trump and NFL mafia owners are exploiting the popularity of sports to inject a brand of fascist patriotism onto the field where no one is allowed to “take a knee” or opt out. President Trump champions this kind of blind patriotism, suggesting at the North Korean summit that Americans should “sit up to attention like Kim.” Similarly, Hitler used the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to propagate German supremacy.


The 2018 World Cup reflects this blending of politics and sports as it takes place in Russia with President Putin opening the FIFA World Cup. Sadly, the beautiful game has also been stained by corruption, money, corporate sponsorship, political propaganda and VAR (Video-Assisted Referee) technology that is ruining the spontaneity and fluidity of the game.


At the opening game, Putin and Prince Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia took a break from managing the massacres and slaughter in Syria and Yemen to sit next to head of FIFA, President Gianni Infantino, to exchange smiles and jabs. To me, it was one of the ugliest images of the World Cup so far, except that is for the haircut of the Brazilian superstar, Neymar. Then former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the disgraced ex-boss, showed up at the World Cup on Tuesday as a guest of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. World soccer fans thought they were rid of this banned and shamed leader, who left as head of FIFA due to corruption, which also included bribery.


The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of human rights violations such as disappearances and torture, hosted teams from the Middle East in luxury hotels. Providing them with Ramadan meals, Mosques and a stadium built and named after his father. Israel tried to lure Argentina to play a friendly game in the disputed city of Jerusalem, which the Argentinian Football Association rejected under pressure from activists around the world.


Egyptian President General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is turning the Egyptian Football Association into his own club, is controlling football on and off the field. In one of the infamous events of the 2012 soccer season, at least 74 fans, many of them fans of the national club Al-Ahly, who also played a major role in the January revolution, were killed in a game in Port Said, Egypt. Egyptian security allegedly allowed violence to escalate among rival fans and trapped fans inside the locked doors of the stadium.


One of the all-time best Egyptian soccer players is Mohamed Aboutrika, three times African player of the year. Aboutrika brought more victories to Egypt than the military did in 70 years, but was chased out of the country, accused of being a terrorist and sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood. General El-Sisi is now jumping on the World Cup wagon, inviting the team for photo ops and posting the images, sending his aides, journalists, well-known actors and dancers, loyalists and parliament members with the team. Their purpose is not so much to support the team, but for propaganda, waving his picture along with the Egyptian flag.


People can no longer simply enjoy the variety of styles available on view at the World Cup, where each national team’s style of play reflects elements of its culture on the field; the direct organized English style; the obnoxious and eccentric style of France and Brazilian samba football, which everyone around the world enjoys and admires; the passionate Arab players who get into a battle that they know they are going to lose; or the creative strength of the African style. Franklin Foer’s 2004 book, “How soccer explains the world”, describes the logic of Nigerian footballers on the pitch: “They had ingenuity that could make a bland Eastern Bloc team look downright continental.”


Fans look forward to enjoying the style and passion of the world’s game, and for a few hours, escaping the politics of this polarized world. The millions of people, according to the FIFA website more than one billion fans tuned in to watch the World Cup Final in Brazil, can no longer separate the hostilities of politics from those on the football pitch. They can’t simply enjoy the “David and Goliath” matchups of teams like Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, or Tunisia with colonial powerhouses like England, France and Spain.


The game that millions enjoy, where representing your country should be the highest goal, where the clash is about cultural style, where the western powers are yet to dominate, where people and players proudly sing their national anthem. The FIFA World Cup, every four years, where everything is put on the line, has been marred. Now it has become a platform for image makeovers for dictators, an ugly stain on the beautiful game.






Ahmed Tharwat

Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America, and his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.

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