Monday, May 27   Sign in or Register
Evangelical Focus

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud

Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.

The future of Europe
Should Christians vote in the European Parliament election in May 2019?



Calum Samuelson

The World Cup dilemma

It would be good to penalize the blatant human rights abuses in Qatar rather than applauding them by letting bonded labourers build the new stadiums for World Cup 2022.

JUBILEE CENTRE AUTHOR Calum Samuelson 10 JULY 2018 16:30 h GMT+1
The Luzhniki stadium, in Russia. / P. Kazachkov (Flickr, CC)

Following the thrilling victory of England over Tunisia in the first game, we learned that far more Brits watched the match than the recent Royal Wedding.

In comparison to the 13.1 million who viewed Harry and Meghan’s nuptials, current stats suggest that more than 21 million cheered on The Three Lions. Perhaps fans support football more than weddings because of its perceived independence from the control of outdated customs and institutionalized religion? Sadly, even as the icon of marriage has been marred by abuse and infidelity, so also has professional sport been plagued by institutional corruption and coercion. Make no mistake: I immensely enjoy watching the World Cup and have already spent more time than I should viewing matches and highlights. But in spite of the numerous benefits connected with this quadrennial global spectacle, its crookedness simply cannot be ignored or left unchallenged.

Confronting the injustices of FIFA is nothing new. The deception and bribery which previously aggravated conditions in Brazilian favelas and the South African Blikkiesdorp hardly need to be recounted here. This year’s tournament involves a country that has murdered journalists, still occupies a neighboring country, used prison labour for stadiums construction, and committed the largest doping violation in history. It may be easy to boycott all this if you are already disinterested in football, but I don’t know a single fan who is able to resist at least watching highlights of Ronaldo’s hat-trick. Are we thus demonstrating by our actions that the ends (global participation in exhilarating competition) justify the means? I sure hope not.

Perhaps one of the reasons we’ve failed in our efforts at reform is because we’ve failed in our assessment of the central dilemma: FIFA has successfully monetized the most popular game on the planet. The litany of criticism aimed at FIFA is important and needed, but it all tends to evaporate in the heat of the tournament’s intense allure. Thus, many accusations fail to ‘stick’ because they are frequently quite anemic: the system is bad. But this misses a vital piece of the puzzle: the game is good. We cannot engage the former successfully if we have not understood the way it capitalizes on the momentum of the latter.

Football is not perfect (as the newly implemented VAR is helping reveal), but it is good. There can be no doubt that the World Cup allows people from all around the globe to experience in some meaningful way the vital human needs of camaraderie, competitiveness, and celebration. The slogan of FIFA appears to work towards such ends—“For  the Game. For the World.”—but time and time again, we’ve seen just how profit-hungry this ‘non-profit’ organization is.

In light of this, we need to change our thinking: The World Cup should not be pitched as an ‘economic windfall’ for low-income countries, but carefully managed as a celebration of humanity’s inerasable playfulness; it should be regarded more as a burden of responsibility for wealthy countries than a ‘prestigious opportunity’ for poor ones. This also necessitates a change in strategy: Rather than trying to impress critics with peripheral perks (such as ‘renewable energy’ and ‘knowledge transfer’), let’s focus on achieving the primary aim (enjoyment of a game) without harming civilians. In recent years, FIFA has proven much better at dodging blame than actually caring about the wake of suffering it helps create. If we can agree that VAR’s detection of nastiness on the field is good, can’t we agree that it would also be good to penalize the blatant human rights abuses in Qatar rather than applauding them by letting bonded labourers build the new stadiums for World Cup 2022?

So what’s the solution? Vendors and business-people have profited from sporting events for as long as they have existed, and we should not expect that to change. But in our world of increasing global awareness, we should at least ensure this is done in a reasonable fashion. To start, the World Cup should only be held in countries that already have the infrastructure and stadiums to handle it. This causes much less upheaval and saves countries from throwing millions of £s away on stadiums that will fall into ruin. Because this model would be much more frugal, a significant percentage of profits could be given away: Host cities could partner with cities in low-income countries; a featured country could be selected to receive a portion of ticket sales for their organization of opening/closing ceremonies; or every team could represent a charity approved by The Life You Can Save. The possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, reform will need to be driven from the top down, the bottom up, and from the inside out. We may be seeing the first cracks begin to develop with Danny Rose’s recent vocalization about FIFA’s permissiveness of racism. It may be that only the players themselves have the power to break the spell in which their fans are held captive.

As the festivities thunder on in Russia even as I type these words, it seems appropriate to close with the powerful reminder of a man from that very country: “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”[1]

Calum Samuelson, MPhil in History of Theology. Works for the Jubilee Centre. This article first appeared on the Jubilee Centre website and was republished with permission.

[1] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Part I: The Prison Industry, Ch. 4 “The Bluecaps




    If you want to comment, or


YOUR ARE AT: - - - The World Cup dilemma
Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels

An interview with the socio-political representative of the European Evangelical Alliance about how evangelical Christians work at the heart of the European Union.

Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church

An interview with Lars Dahle, of the Steering Committee of the Lausanne Movement Global Consultation on Nominal Christianity held in Rome.

Glimpses of the ELF 2019 conference Glimpses of the ELF 2019 conference

Evangelical leaders from across Europe meet in Wisla (Poland) to network for mission in a range of fields. The vision is to renew the biblical church and evangelise Europe.

AEA Plaza opens to serve African evangelicals AEA Plaza opens to serve African evangelicals

After many years of labour, the Association of Evangelicals in Africa officially opened its new centre in Nairobi, Kenya. “Africa, your time has come!”, said the World Evangelical Alliance Secretary General Efraim Tendero.

‘Small churches, big potential for transformation’ ‘Small churches, big potential for transformation’

Photos of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance’s annual gathering “Idea 2019”, in Murcia. Politicians and church leaders discussed about the role of minorities in society.

God’s love and judgement in the New Testament God’s love and judgement in the New Testament

Both God’s love and judgement are intensified in the New Testament, says Paul Caopn, Chair of Philosophy and Ethics of Palm Beach Atlantic University (US).

A call to prayer from the streets of Venezuela A call to prayer from the streets of Venezuela

In the midst of the turmoil in Venezuela, Pastor Carlos Vielma, Vice President of the Union of Christian Churches of Venezuela, sent out an urgent plea for Christians everywhere to pray.

Romania: God’s Word among Roma people Romania: God’s Word among Roma people

Gypsies are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Romania. According to 2013 estimates, the Roma groups make up 10% of the country's population, accounting for about 1.5 million people.

Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube

EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.