The Fifa World Cup has long had an uneasy relationship with politics. In 1978, Argentina hosted and won the tournament despite being ruled by a military junta, led by General Jorge Rafael Videla.
The 2022 edition in Qatar is just days old and while there have been some spectacular goals, several teams have made headlines for their various forms of protests, highlighting concerns over human rights as well as the host country’s unjust treatment of migrant workers. The Straits Times looks at five instances so far.
1. No singing during national anthem
Before their opening match against England, all 11 Iranians on the pitch remained silent while their national anthem was played at the Khalifa International Stadium. Their compatriots in the stands also booed, both groups voicing their unhappiness with Iran’s authoritarian government.
Back in Tehran, there have been riots following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police in September. She was reportedly detained for violating the country’s strict dress code.
According to recent estimates from the Human Rights Activists News Agency, at least 348 protestors had been killed and 15,900 arrested as security forces cracked down on the rioters.
2. The “OneLove” armband
Nine European countries, including England, Germany and Denmark, had planned to wear the armband, conceived as a symbol of diversity and tolerance, but abandoned their plans after Fifa at the eleventh hour threatened sanctions.
Instead, others opted to don the rainbow-coloured armband to protest Fifa’s intervention. BBC pundit Alex Scott wore it while presenting the England-Iran game before she was followed by Germany’s interior minister Nancy Faeser at the Germany-Japan match. Belgium’s foreign minister Hadja Lahbib also wore it during her nation’s 1-0 win over Canada on Wednesday and was seen in an animated discussion with Fifa present Gianni Infantino.
Ironically, the Dutch company that makes the bands has said it is sold out after shipping 10,000, mostly in the past two weeks.
3. Three Lions take the knee
England’s entire starting XI knelt in unison seconds before kick-off of their Cup opener against Iran on Monday. The gesture is to support anti-racism movements worldwide, including “Black Lives Matter”.
It was started by American National Football League player Colin Kaepernick in 2016. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback sparked a debate about race relations and police violent in the United States when he refused to stand during the national anthem for a pre-season game.
4. Germans will not be silenced
Barred from wearing the “OneLove” armband, the German team found another way to express themselves, covering their mouths during the on-pitch team photo before Wednesday’s game against Japan.
A statement from the German Football Association later read: “It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us. Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”
5. Socceroos in one voice
Before travelling to Qatar, Australia released a collective video, featured 16 players, criticising Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of LGBTQ+ people, becoming the first 2022 World Cup team to do so.
The Qatar Supreme Committee rebutted with: “No country is perfect, and every country - hosts of major events or not - has its challenges.”