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Global Studies Department discusses “sportswashing” and Qatar 2022

We are currently in a lull of athletic competition on Mayflower Hill, with fall sports wrapping up their seasons. The Global Studies Department took this opportunity to host an event in the Harold Alfond Athletics ad Recreation Center this past Thursday, Nov. 3, titled “The Year of Sportswashing in Review: Corruption, Human Rights Abuses, Olympic Ideals, and Global Soccer.” 

Associate Professor of German Arne Koch, a member of the Global Studies Advisory Board, gave a presentation on the financial dynamics of global sports and how events such as this year’s World Cup in Qatar can be exploited for political means. Koch began by referencing the Berlin Olympics of 1936, or the “Hitler Olympics,” where the Nazis were able to present a carefully designed global identity that masked the regime’s persecution of Jews and other groups within Germany.

Koch then shifted the discussion to a more modern example of sportswashing: the FIFA World Cup in Qatar set to begin on Nov. 20. FIFA’s decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup has been criticized since the country’s successful bid was announced in 2010. 

At the time, FIFA was beginning to face pressure from fans and the media for apparent corruption, and in 2015, the FBI and IRS would disclose indictments against fourteen FIFA officials for money laundering, racketeering, and wire fraud.

An internal investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup would follow, concluding that there was no foul play; however, that conclusion has remained highly contentious, with the chief investigator claiming the report contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations.” As a result of the controversy surrounding Qatar hosting the World Cup, there are movements to boycott the soccer event in 2022 for Qatar’s human rights abuses and corruption.

The Qatari government has faced pressure from fans and football-governing agencies alike for confiscating passports, providing unacceptable living conditions, and committing other human rights abuses toward migrant workers, of whom more than 6,500 have died The regime has also faced backlash for its intolerant stance toward LGBTQ+ rights.

Koch discussed movements protesting the event, including bars and cafés foregoing potential business by refusing to show the matches for fans to watch and enjoy. Hummel, a Danish sportswear brand, announced that they would be providing “toned-down” kits for the Danish national team, denouncing the event: “We don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives. We support the Danish national team all the way, but that isn’t the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation.”

Koch also discussed potential censorship issues, with the Qatari regime limiting broadcasters from displaying certain images, such as workers’ housing conditions, or discussing certain issues such as LGBTQ+ and migrant-worker rights in the country. 

Aside from human rights abuses, with limited opportunities for other entertainment — aside from the actual matches — and limited alcohol sales, fans, pundits, and football, governing bodies have continued to question the cultural relevance of a Qatari World Cup. Surely, local customs must be respected, and the event should adopt a local flavor; however, a line must be drawn.

Koch’s talk and the following discussion remind us to consider the political and social implications of the event as excitement and fervor surrounding the actual gameplay begin to swirl.

~ Rohan Sinha `24

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