Football is the world's game, a game that is inclusive, a global sport. But is it? Football has become a business and it is increasingly profit-orientated. All the big hitters have infected the beautiful game.
On the outside, Football can be compared to an Iceberg, you see the best players, the best teams, and competitive tournaments worldwide. That is just the tip of the Iceberg, underneath, lies an unseen and dark area of the game that is starting to pop out of the water.
The Middle-Eastern influence on the game is now monumental, The 2022 World Cup, Newcastle, PSG, and the oligarch's attempt to buy Manchester United. There is an argument to be made that the Middle-Eastern influence has propelled the game to a different level and that our game is the best we have ever seen. However, the questions have to be asked as to whether this influence is good for the sport.
FIFA, the largest sporting organisation on the planet, the puppet masters if you will. They are in control of everything in the game and are the hosts of the world's biggest competition: The World Cup. The latest rendition of the tournament was one to remember with a final that was arguably the best we have ever seen. A tournament that will be remembered for its fantastic games and a chance to view the best players on a global stage.
On the other hand, due to the success of the tournament, the world has seemingly forgotten about the human rights issues that clouded the tournament. According to The Guardian "In 2021, at least 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup a decade ago." Those numbers are staggering, it was a great World Cup, but ultimately it was held in the wrong place.
The deaths were due to the inhumane conditions migrant workers were put into in order to build the stadiums for the Qatar World Cup. The CEO: Nasser Al Khater spoke about the deaths and was unsympathetic to the migrant workers, " Death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep.” This disgraceful attitude towards migrant death workers underlines their failure to investigate these deaths and ignores the fact that many of these deaths were preventable.
Furthermore, to let a nation that does not have deep-rooted connections in the sport was a mistake, rushed stadiums and stadiums that are unlikely to be used post-tournament, were just the start of a dark-tinted tournament.
The mass media heavily covered LGBTQIA+ issues during the tournament. In a country where being gay is illegal, football apparently " the world's game" was restricted for many. According to CNN "The captains of several European teams will not wear “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup in Qatar due to the danger of receiving yellow cards. England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Wales were set to participate in the “OneLove” campaign to promote inclusion and oppose discrimination."
This was just one of the many controversies that took place at the Qatar FIFA World Cup. Football is the game for all and Qatar took advantage of fans with accommodation such as fan villages. According to The Evening Standard "There are 1,800 tents in this two-star fan village on a northern Doha peninsula. Costing upwards of £172 per night, each comes with two single beds, a nightstand, and free breakfast. In true camping style, bathrooms and toilets are communal." This was on top of the outrageous ticket prices for games, more evidence that the Qatar World Cup was catered toward the wealthy, and that Qatar was attempting to control the audience at the World Cup.
Despite all the glitz and the glamour of the tournament, there is one key question to talk about. Why on earth were Qatar the hosts? Many people in the industry were dumbfounded when in 2010, FIFA announced that Qatar would be the hosts of the World Cup in 2022.
The international governing body of football: FIFA, gave everyone worldwide a huge shock when they announced Qatar to be the host, this is due to a whole web of scandals that Qatar has been in. The major one being how they were awarded the competition. A desert land that had never qualified for the World Cup previously and had outbid Japan, the USA, and Australia, something doesn't look right here...
This was due to the alleged bribery and corruption allegations that FIFA had against them for years. In 2014, The Sunday Times reported on an amalgamation of leaked emails and other documents suggesting that prominent Qatari official and former FIFA executive committee member, Mohammed bin Hammam had allegedly paid millions of dollars worth of bribes to FIFA officials. (Bin Hammam had already received a lifetime ban from FIFA in 2011 for other corruption charges.)
The turmoil then deepened, as The New York Times reported that in April 2020, The Justice Department released fresh evidence that FIFA had taken bribes from unnamed Qatar officials, which of course Qatar has continuously denied any wrongdoing.
Whether or not you think FIFA is corrupt, it is clear that FIFA awarding Qatar to be the host of the 2022 World Cup was self-serving, another way to line their pockets, and Qatar's range of oligarchs make wealthy business partners for future ventures. This was not a World Cup for the people, this was a World Cup solely made to make money, especially as it was a winter tournament for many due to the heat conditions in Qatar. Coming off the back of a global pandemic, your ordinary football fan was already dealing with heavy financial loss and it is clear that the Qatar World Cup was the biggest exhibition of "sportswashing " we have seen to date in our beautiful game.
What better than the biggest competition on earth to cover up atrocities that are continuously reported by Qatari LGTBQIA+? The World Cup in Qatar, whilst an incredible display of football, is clouded by being a textbook example of the leading sporting organisations putting profit, before people.
If you go further down the Iceberg, you will discover the Saudi Arabian influence that is heavily prevalent in football. The most controversial example of this is the PIF (Public Investment Fund) Saudi consortium's takeover of Newcastle United. The takeover filled thousands of Newcastle fans with ecstasy, as they had finally been removed from the chains of Mike Ashley, who had been holding the club back for more than a decade (14 years) to be precise.
However, with the takeover comes questions, many left unanswered yet, but what is for sure, is that the morality of football is collapsing in front of our eyes. There is a question to be asked, really is any football club owner clean? This is a valid argument, but there is a huge divide in the PIF and morality.
Firstly, the Saudi Arabian government has faced criticism on the international stage for alleged human rights violations, including the treatment of women's rights activists and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This raised questions about the ethical implications of a state-backed entity owning a Premier League club. Furthermore, the appointment of the PIF as majority owners of Newcastle should be raising alarm bells, how can any team truly compete with the financial power that the Saudis have to offer?
Another example of sportswashing is at play here; it seems there is no one that will stop the hijacking of Middle Eastern influence in our sport. The wealth of these owners is staggering, according to The Metro "PIF has assets worth around £320 billion, which puts them well clear at the top of football’s rich list ahead of Qatar’s Investment Authority, which owns Paris Saint-Germain and has assets are worth around £220bn." These numbers are just unfathomable, and football continuously ignores red flags in football ownership. The fit and proper test (or lack thereof) is supposed to be installed to prevent inadequate and incompetent potential owners from destroying our beautiful game.
It is transparent that this is not the case, and that football is leaving not only fans behind but humans in general. The Premier League is naive if they think that the oligarchs investing in their league are for on-the-pitch reasons. Football must wake up and smell the coffee! It is clear as day that the Saudis are sportwashing. Amnesty UK chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, said the deal represented “a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football”.
Thousands of activists were killed and appalling human rights records, yet we have allowed football to become swallowed by the Middle East's ever-growing empire. Money talks, as every football fan alike will know, but how many atrocities are worth the same as a transfer fee? You must ask yourself is it worth it? The Premier League, the world's biggest league is now poisoned with oil-rich money and fans have been put on the backburner. It is clear that the leading organisations in football, are turning their back on what makes the sport... the fans.
Fans are the lifeblood of the sport and the leading football organisations are consistently taking advantage of them. Profit has been at the forefront of every club and leading football organisations and according to iNews "FIFA has been accused of “greenwashing” and prioritising “profit over people” over plans to hold the 2030 World Cup across three different continents." Football is the world's game and in quintessential eutopia, everybody should have access to the game and the world's biggest event. The World Cup should be the epitome of inclusivity, yet as we move forward, FIFA is allowing the game to slip through our fingers.
The hypocrisy on display is laughable, a global tournament where players from all over the globe, come together, and provide some of the best sporting moments of all time. Yet we still see people put before profit. The 2030 World Cup will see games held across three continents: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay (South America) Spain, Portugal (Europe), and Morocco (Africa).
Whilst on the outside, this looks like a great way for each country to promote themselves, the fans have again been left on the side of the road in terms of tickets and travel. According to Frank Huisingh of Fossil Free Football, "This should be the moment FIFA begins taking credible climate action, which must start with breaking ties with big polluters, such as their sponsors QatarEnergy and Qatar Airways.
"The next step is a serious plan to reduce the emissions of its tournaments. That includes choosing locations with existing infrastructure, ensuring fans can travel between host cities with low-carbon transport, and focusing ticket sales on local fans." It is imperative that leading sports organisations keep, the focus on the fans. However, FIFA is continuously displaying a lack of empathy for fans and a disregard for basic human rights in host countries for the World Cup.
How much longer can fans and the world alike, put up with the hypocrisy of FIFA and the alleged corruption that is ongoing with every World Cup? As we go deeper down the iceberg, we can also find the emergence of Saudi Arabia in our game. Keeping to the theme of FIFA, ( who appear to be the villain here) It is widely reported that the 2034 World Cup will be hosted in Saudi Arabia; yet another country with questionable human rights records to say the least.
In order to aid this bid in 2034, Saudi Arabia has accelerated their own league: The Saudi Pro League. A league that was on the lips of many over the summer transfer window, as we saw quality players make their way over to the league. Rightly, or wrongly, a whole host of top players made the switch to the league, with Cristiano Ronaldo greatly complimenting the league "We are much better and the Saudi league is getting better and the next year will be even better," he told Saudi SSC channel on Tuesday. "Step-by-step I think this league will be among the top five leagues in the world but they need time, players, and infrastructure."
I do wonder if Cristiano got paid per positive word here, with a lack of attendance and lack of viewers in the league, it is obvious that the league is nowhere near the top five in the world. It is yet another stunt by the Saudis for financial gain and to yet again, sweep the murder, torture, and lack of women's rights under the carpet.
An article from Amnesty International highlights the issues in Saudi Arabia "Human rights organizations remained banned under the Law on Associations. Human rights defenders and activists continued to be arbitrarily detained, harassed in detention, or subjected to arbitrary travel bans that restrict their freedom of movement. Dozens continued to serve prison terms for their human rights work." How can FIFA allow another tournament in a country that lacks basic human rights? Well, we know the answer to that, profit, the driving factor that is yet again the priority for FIFA.
Sadly, it doesn't look like the acceleration of oligarchs in our game will end anytime soon. Profit has been at the forefront of all the frontrunners in our game and sportswashing is happening again and again. What is it going to take before stakeholders in the game take action? If football is to come out on top, it must stick to its values and what makes it what it is. The fans and human beings are what makes football so great, its diversity and inclusivity make it the world's game. It is up to us now to speak out against corruption in football and keep football pure. This is an ideal dystopia but it's better than what we have now. Football is nothing without humans.