HomeWorld NewsHow can they ethically watch the World Cup?

How can they ethically watch the World Cup?

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The men’s soccer World Cup, soccer’s biggest arena, kicks off in Qatar on Sunday. But this year, the games are clouded by the host country’s long list of human rights abuses and failures. GBH News sports reporter Esteban Bustillos has been speaking to fans about how they are dealing with the excitement around the World Cup, but also concerned about what we know about how Qatar has operated in the run-up to the tournament. joined GBH morning edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to discuss their reporting. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Paris Alston: What prompted you to report this, Esteban?

Stephen Bustillos: So, like many people, I love the World Cup. I think it’s the greatest sporting event in the world, and that includes the Olympics. And for weeks, I’ve been wrestling with whether I can really support this tournament or how much I can support this tournament. And, like many people, it has been very difficult.

Jeremy Siegel: It’s also a bit sticky. I think I would argue with you on the Olympics and World Cup thing, I’m more of an Olympics guy. But specifically with this World Cup, why is it so thorny for some fans this year?

Bustillos: I mean, take your pick. There are the conditions for migrant workers, which have basically bordered on modern day slavery. The Qatari government has said there were 37 deaths among World Cup stadium workers between 2014 and 2020, and that only three of them were actually work-related. But outside observers have found that number to be much, much higher. Or the terrible record of the government when it comes to LGBTQ rights or women’s rights or press freedom, or even the fact that due to the country’s climate, the summer event had to be moved to the months of winter to avoid the scorching heat that would have made it impossible to play. And, as icing on the cake, the Justice Department accused the leaders of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, of taking bribes to bring the World Cup to Qatar. Even former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who led the organization when Qatar won the cup, recently said that hosting the tournament there was a mistake. It’s messy, you know.

Alston: Yes, that’s a lot. So how are the local fans navigating this?

Bustillos: As you can imagine, it’s complicated. Evan Cipriano is the vice president of the Boston chapter of the American Outlaws, a supporter group that endorses US soccer teams. He went to the 2014 Copa do Brasil and vowed never to miss a tournament after that. But he broke that vow this year with the issues surrounding Qatar in mind.

[Previously recorded]

Evan Cipriano: Which leaves you at home watching and saying, you know, I’m just watching a sporting event. But at the same time, you are supporting what a great organization like FIFA has decided, which is to give a country like Qatar the ability to host what should be a very welcoming global event that everyone can participate in. Like I said, certainly from a fan perspective, it doesn’t seem like everyone is welcome and that’s really disappointing.

[Recording ends]


“From a fan perspective, it doesn’t seem like everyone is welcome and that’s really disappointing.”

-Evan Cipriano, vice president of the Boston chapter of the American Outlaws

Siegel: So this is interesting. He went from vowing never to miss a tournament, going to see one in person, to hitting the brakes because of this event in Qatar.

Bustillos: Yeah, and part of that is actually their past experience in Russia in 2018 when they hosted the Cup. Obviously, Russia has had similar issues when it comes to human rights and was already dabbling in Ukraine at the time. But that was not highlighted as much as Qatar’s problems are now being talked about. Cipriano still went, but his feelings about that event changed over time.

[Previously recorded]

Cyprian: And then deep down I really thought to myself, like this was really just propaganda for the Russian government to say that we held a big event. People came from all over the world. It was amazing. I look back and I’m like, wow, like I really couldn’t believe I went there and then I came back and I’m like, ‘yeah, it was all good.’ Like, you should go to Russia, this is a great place. I felt welcome there. I’m sorry I did that, and those feelings.

[Recording ends]

Bustillos: And, you know, a decision like that with the US men’s team back in the tournament after missing the 2018 Cup, that’s a huge loss for fans like Cipriano, but that’s the kind of choice people have. what to do this year .

Alston: So that’s certainly a lot to try to think about. And another big component of this is how it will affect Qatar’s relationship with the rest of the world. What have you heard about that?

Bustillos: Obviously, this is a great moment for the country and the region, as it is the first time that a Middle Eastern nation has hosted a World Cup. Cemal Kafadar is the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University and a huge soccer fan. He says he was surprised, like many others, when Qatar got the cup. And he’s dealing with his own emotions about looking.

[Previously recorded]

Cemal Kafadar: Not a day goes by that I don’t get a message from a friend or two saying, I’m very ambivalent about this mug.

[Recording ends]

Bustillos: He told me that there are now talks in the Middle East, fueled in part by criticism of Qatar that may not have happened before when it comes to everything from workers’ rights to LGBTQ rights.

[Previously recorded]

kafadar: Well, the change may be too ambitious, but we’ve definitely stimulated some dialogue, some conversation, some awareness. And the change certainly comes at the end of something like that, but not necessarily a short-term change. It is not something that could be expected next month, immediately after the World Cup. Yes, I think it is very important to change your mind. And this kind of talk changes your mind.

[Recording ends]


“I think” it is very important to change your mind. And this kind of talk changes your mind.”

-Cemal Kafadar, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University

Bustillos: And another point he had is that while there is much to criticize Qatar for, he cautions against using the World Cup to paint too broad a picture of the region.

[Previously recorded]

kafadar: It seems to me that the larger picture of Qatar and the Gulf and Arabia as an oil-rich, bankrupt place or country or society is unfair in that sense. We really have to find a balance between exceptionalizing Qatar and properly caring about the problems that exist.

[Recording ends]

Siegel: This is super complicated and it’s really difficult for fans to navigate because on the one hand you have people who are really aware of the issues in Qatar. And then at the other end, you know, they’re enjoying the game, which operates well beyond the boundaries of a country. I have to ask you, as a World Cup superfan, have you made up your mind about whether to watch?

Bustillos: You know, it’s very, very hard to say either way. Again, I love the cup and rooting for Mexico and the US and watching all the other stories unfold each year. I did not watch the Winter Olympics this year due to my own personal concerns about how the Chinese government has operated when it comes to the Uyghurs or Tibet. But that was easy. I mean, who really cares about the sleigh when it comes down to it? But this is different. When he was talking to Kafadar, he quoted Uruguayan author Eduardo Gagliano, who wrote that the history of soccer is a sad journey from beauty to duty, which means that money has taken the joy people had for the game and made it turned into a commodity. And that’s how it feels this year. If I look, it won’t be because I feel the emotion that I usually feel. It will feel like an obligation.

Alston: The 2026 World Cup will take place in four years, obviously, and part of that will happen here in Massachusetts at Gillette. So is that kind of a silver lining?

Bustillos: That’s how it is. You know, the United States and England met in this year’s group stage on the 25th. Here’s hoping we get a World Cup rematch on July 4, 2026 in Foxborough. It would be a home field advantage like never before seen in this city.

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