Like the Olympic Games, the World Cup comes around once every four years, and it grabs the interest of soccer fans throughout the world. As such the World Cup, unfortunately, becomes a prime arena not just for sports but for all the political gamesmanship that comes with international competitions.
This year the World Cup is being hosted by Qatar, a small, oil rich Middle Eastern country with a questionable human rights record, especially concerning the hordes of foreign workers it brings into the country to build its buildings and infrastructure in harsh heat, paying substandard wages and refusing them the social benefits that the Qatari citizens enjoy. FIFA, the organization that controls international soccer, has been criticized for picking Qatar as a host, and for stifling attempts by various teams to protest human rights abuses.
The American soccer team has been caught up in the human rights controversy. It is playing Iran today, needing a win to advance to the knockout round of the competition. The U.S. and Iran have been on unfriendly terms since the 1979-81 U.S. hostage crisis. Iran is on everyone’s list because of its push to develop nuclear weapons and its harsh treatment of women under Sharia law, which culminated recently with the death of a woman in the custody of Iranian morality police who detained her for not wearing her hijab properly. Protests erupted in Iran because of that, with more than 300 people killed by Iranian security forces and 18,000 detained.
Then the U.S. Soccer Federation used an image of the Iranian flag on its website, leaving out the symbol in the midde of the flag to show solidarity with the protestors. The Iranian government is condemning the U.S. Soccer Federation and calling for FIFA to expel the U.S. team from the World Cup.
World politics has provided a dramatic backdrop for some of the world’s most stirring athletic events, such as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” when the young USA team beat the vaunted Soviets. But it would be lovely to be able to watch some of the world’s great athletes compete without political issues crowding in on the action.