The first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is just weeks away, but much of the sports news world is focused instead on future tournaments. Outrage continues to ring globally over the choice to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in Russia and Qatar, respectively, causing FIFA to reconsider its decision in Qatar at the very least.
Both countries have made headlines regarding various human rights abuses. Many feel that allowing these countries to host an internationally-renowned tournament, and reap the financial benefits, is akin to tolerating or even supporting these actions.
Russia found itself in the news earlier this year, not only for the impending Winter Olympics, but also for its new anti-gay propaganda law, which forbade Russian citizens from committing gay acts or discussing homosexuality in public. Opponents called for the Olympics to be canceled, even though Russian president Vladimir Putin insisted that the law would not affect foreign athletes. Americans in particular were outraged, however, when U.S. athletes shared pictures and accounts of their dismal lodgings and treatment at the Games. Many believed Putin to be “punishing” America after President Barack Obama selected a delegation full of openly gay athletes to represent the country, on top of electing not to attend.
The Winter Games went on as planned, and the furor died down somewhat until Russia invaded Crimea in late March, annexing it back into Russia and then making weeks of idle threats that it would invade Ukraine. Now Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine’s ambassador to the European Union, is calling for official EU sanctions against Russia, and stating it should lose its right to host the 2018 World Cup. Though the EU has imposed sanctions on individuals in both countries and frozen Crimean business assets in response, some EU member states fear retaliation and economic hardship if they impose tougher sanctions on Russia.
U.S. Senators Dan Coats and Mark Kirk requested that FIFA convene an emergency session in March to suspend Russia’s membership, strip Russia’s hosting right, and bar the country from participation in this year’s tournament in Brazil. In response, FIFA stated that only a violation of its statutes is grounds for a country’s expulsion.
The 2022 choice for host of the FIFA World Cup, Qatar, is another cause of continued outrage. The country has been under strict scrutiny and a number of serious accusations have been thrown its way since winning the bid. Beyond its strict laws against homosexuality (offenders can receive up to seven years in jail) and its blind eye to abuses against homosexuals in the Muslim community (unmarried offenders are subject to flogging; married offenders are put to death), Qatar is being accused of “modern slavery” due to its questionable tactics with workers constructing stadiums for the tournament and with players attempting to leave the country.
In response to the uproar, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has admitted that awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was “a mistake.” Blatter highlighted the weather issues—summer temperatures in Qatar soar well over 100 degrees, which could force FIFA to move the tournament to the winter months—and also hinted that politics had a hand in picking Qatar over the U.S., the latter of which Blatter claims to have favored. Reports have been made that several committee members who voted for Qatar have been banned for breaches in ethics. No decisions to strip Qatar of the hosting right have been made, but FIFA did investigate the voting procedure for both the 2022 and 2018 tournaments.
Both countries have, so far, retained their hosting rights to their respective tournaments, but the continued outrage could cause FIFA to reconsider its choice and remove one or both as a World Cup host. If this does happen, the U.S. is the logical replacement host. Given the country’s recent luck with bids, however, American soccer fans should not get too excited just yet.
Commentary by Christina Jones