Are you watching the World Cup? This seemingly innocent question has become the most divisive question of the moment. Where it was once taboo to talk about politics and religion at the dinner table, now it’s football that’s off limits. Relatives, friends and colleagues are divided over the issue – wondering whether they should watch the match, ignore the entire tournament, or walk out in protest.
Is it okay to watch the World Cup despite all the controversies? Is it morally wrong to encourage athletes?
German football fans reject the World Cup.
Public opinion in Germany’s stadiums seems to agree. The World Cup in Qatar has generally been ruled out. In recent weeks, many fans have drawn attention to themselves with banners and posters, condemning the deaths of migrant workers and Qatar’s gay legislation. It is perfect.
For many critics, Qatar symbolizes even more: the dangerous path modern football has taken. Sheiks and sports laundering, shady investors, corruption, and selling the soul of football. There is good reason to reject all of them and I understand that.
But ignoring football entirely? As if the world’s biggest sporting event isn’t happening? Before the last World Cup held in Russia four years ago, there was a media frenzy, but there were no calls for a boycott.
Yet at the same time, the Russian Air Force was dropping bombs on Syria, and North Korean migrant workers were being systematically exploited on stadium construction sites. The headlines spoke of the “slaves” of St. Petersburg.
Wasn’t a red line crossed long ago? Can a TV boycott really make a difference? Each and every fan can make that decision for themselves, and poor TV ratings will also affect FIFA, association football’s international governing body.
But even if the overall ranking is poor in Germany, and perhaps in Northern Europe, other regions will compensate. FIFA has long been looking for new markets – and it would be wrong to blame it too harshly for that.
The Arab World Cup is long overdue
After all, this is the time when the World Cup was going to be held in the Arab world. It has taken more than 90 years for FIFA to decide to host the tournament in the region. Criticism of the “Winter World Cup” and the fact that there is no real soccer tradition in Qatar is Eurocentric, some say it is a sign of Western hubris.
But while the region deserves the World Cup, did it really have to be in Qatar? I am not happy with this decision, but I will definitely watch the match on TV. I already know it will hurt. I am not looking forward to it like this. News of “fake fans” celebrating in the capital Doha has left me speechless. I’m also not too happy about the prospect of countless messages of peace from FIFA president Gianni Infantino over the next few weeks.
But I cling to the memories of my childhood, back to 1994 when I was a little boy and sat in a dark room, lit only by the television I was drawn to. Nigeria, participating for the first time, played brilliantly! And Babyto from Brazil left an indelible mark on me every time he scored an imaginary child.
Every fan has a story to tell about what sparked their interest in football. And finally, it’s the love of the game, that many TVs will be on this year as well.
It may be a bit of a balancing act, but there are many questions to be answered: How far will African champions Senegal go? Will Messi’s last chance succeed? How will Hansi Flick and Germany do? Of course, these sports stories need to be told, but I’m personally more interested in what happens off the field.
Will FIFA end a tournament it has already declared “the best World Cup in history”? Will international pressure lead to a compensation fund for migrant workers? How do Qataris feel about press freedom? What do South American and Asian soccer fans think about the World Cup and the topic of human rights, which is so present in the Western media? Will Germany do anything to “represent our values” as team captain Manuel Neuer has declared? Will Qatar get anything out of this “opportunity” as Neuer’s predecessor Bastian Schweinsteiger hoped in a recent interview with DW? And how do highly paid PR figures like Qatar World Cup ambassador David Beckham deal with criticism?
That’s what I want to know and talk about, at the dinner table, in the canteen or at the bar. All these need our attention. So I’ll keep watching.
This option was originally written in German.