MARTIN SAMUEL: How dare FIFA order stars to leave their morals at home

MARTIN SAMUEL: How dare FIFA take the World Cup to a repressive state then order stars to leave their morals at home… asking participants to focus on football is despicable

  • FIFA’s plea for World Cup nations to focus on football is absolutely despicable 
  • How dare they take football to a repressive state then lecture us on our morals
  • Everyone outside of FIFA will moralise and judge them throughout World Cup

FIFA went bent, so now it expects the rest of the world to go bent, too. 

Gianni Infantino’s wheedling missive requesting that the 32 countries at the Qatar World Cup focus on the football is nothing more than a naked attempt to cover their own, corrupt tracks.

That his letter comes countersigned by his general-secretary Fatma Samoura – in the job since 2016 – shows nothing has really changed at the top of the organisation. 

They claim to have cleaned up their act but it is still FIFA, ladies and gentlemen. It is still self-interest and greed masquerading as the good of the game.

Seriously, how dare they? How dare they take this tournament to a repressive, autocratic state and then piously request the participants leave their politics and morality at home? How dare they hold a festival of football on the graves of dead migrant labour and ask those walking on the pitches to look the other way?

It was despicable for FIFA president Gianni Infantino (right) to plead with the 32 nations at the World Cup to focus on football and avoid discussing social and political issues in Qatar

It is reprehensible that they have taken football to a repressive state and lecture us on morals

This week, it was also revealed that small groups of visiting fans were being paid by the hosts to act as cheerleaders for the tournament and report on those who do not. Where does this fit with FIFA’s duplicitous mantra that ‘everyone is welcome’. Really, everyone?

So why is there now so much talk about respecting the conservative traditions of the hosts? Why did James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, as good as advise gay visitors to dial it down a little while in Qatar?

For Infantino to then seek to deflect criticism of the Qatari regime – and therefore also FIFA – by asking participants to focus on football is despicable. He wishes to pretend politics and sport do not mix now it suits him, when the last two World Cup awards have been shot through with political motivation.

Russia in 2018, Qatar in 2022 – delivered together in an unprecedented vote for some inexplicable reason. And the motivations were not political? Were not drenched in soft power, influence and prestige on the global stage? FIFA’s corrupt executive benefited from those desires, usually through the pocket, and this is the result. And now it is here we are supposed not to mention it?

Some fans are being paid to go to Qatar to post positive messages about the World Cup

There will come a time when football, naturally, takes control of the agenda. World Cups are successful simply because they are World Cups. They succeed almost despite the organisers. 

The Olympics is the same. Remember London 2012? Before, there were issues. After, issues. Yet during it was all sport, glory and wonder. When Qatar begins there will be great football played by the athletes left standing – although not enough of them, sadly – and we will revel in it, as we always do.

Yet that does not forgive FIFA their decision. It does not forgive them the corruption or its toll. It does not forgive them taking their crown jewel to a part of the world that requires paid cheerleaders to make it palatable.

South Africa had problems in 2010. Its transport infrastructure was not always conducive to internal travel, there was widespread crime and the ever-present mismanagement and exploitation of public funds. Yet still, nobody needed paying to sing its praises and nobody got an expenses-paid trip for acting as an ad hoc government spy. That is just Qatar.

An Amnesty International activist holds a placard calling for better human rights standards

What Infantino fears is every wrinkle, every criticism, landing at FIFA’s door. God forbid there is a major incident, a high-profile arrest like that of Peter Tatchell, an interview or an armband that goes off-message or the welcome is not as warm as anticipated. He wants to distance FIFA from their actions but cannot, so he tries to suppress the discussion instead.

FIFA is not here to moralise and judge is the tone of Infantino’s dispatch. Fine, we all know morality made its excuses and left the organisation long ago.

Yet the rest of us? The teams, the players, the coaches, everyone outside this crooked cabal? We can moralise, we can judge and we judge FIFA. And we judge them to be scoundrels, still.

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