The Qatar conundrum

The World Cup is shining a spotlight on the role of football in the rights landscape, but it’s complicated writes JEMIMAH STEINFELD

ON A TUESDAY afternoon in November 1945, the streets of Fulham, London filled with people all heading to Stamford Bridge. They were there to see Chelsea FC play Dynamo Moscow and the atmosphere was electric. Cheering crowds bought toffee apples sold by local residents and those without tickets climbed onto the stadium roof to watch. The match didn’t disappoint, ending on a thrilling 3-3 draw. It was the start of Dynamo Moscow’s UK tour, a tour that has gone down in the books as a huge success. Stalin was delighted. He saw it as a signifier of Communist strength, soft power working at its finest. It was, in short, sportswashing 1945 style.

Sportswashing in 2022 is a similar

George Orwell was sickened by the fanfare surrounding Dynamo Moscow

beast, just on a grander scale, and Qatar, the host of the World Cup in November and December, is its current posterchild. Here’s a nation that prohibits homosexuality, has no free press, forbids protest, restricts free speech. It has stadiums built using migrant labour with little to no workers’ rights. And yet come November these stadiums will open to the world, international dignitaries will be wined and dined and Qatar will revel in the glory associated with hosting a World Cup.

George Orwell was sickened by the fanfare surrounding Dynamo Moscow in 1945. It was this spectacle that led him to famously describe international sporting events as “mimic warfare” and “orgies of hatred”. Should we be sickened too? This was the starting point of our special report. We set out with a simple question: “Is football bad for free speech?” And yet the answer was complex. Kaya Genç, for example, writes about Turkish President Reccep Erdoğan buying up sporting clubs to stop the arenas being used for protest; China’s leader Xi Jinping force-feeds the nation’s kids a diet of soccer while Uyghur footballers playing for Chinese

teams are paraded as examples of racial harmony. But against these negatives were stories of remarkable positivity. Permi Jhooti, the real-life inspiration for Bend It Like Beckham, says football gave her a voice to challenge the traditions she had been raised in. The same applied to Khalida Popal, the first captain of Afghanistan’s women’s team.

We asked a leading philosopher, Julian Baggini, whether we should expect the world’s footballers to speak out against atrocities. His answer was no. We asked an activist from Qatar whether we should boycott the tournament. His answer was yes.

Football is both a beautiful game and an ugly game, all depending on where you are standing. Ask two football fans their verdict on a match and you will get at least three opinions. And interestingly, football is also often a lens through which a nation reveals itself. Hence, in this issue we look at the state of free expression across the world, from the pitch-side up.

Jemimah Steinfeld is Index editor-in-chief



T: ( c o v e r ) F a t i

m a

W o j

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A cup half full

MARK FRARY introduces our cover artist FATIMA WOJOHAT

Fatima Wojohat was 19 when the Taliban retook Afghanistan. After the Taliban imposed restrictions

on women, she started creating artwork on her smartphone.

Her illustration focuses on issues

surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, including the suppression of workers’ and women’s rights.

There is hope though. She says, “The purpose of drawing hearts in my artworks is to be a light in the darkness.”