Monday, November 28, 2022
It's Monday, November 28th, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Corruption, Bribery, Migrant Labor, LGBTQ Debates, and Alcoholic Beverages: Controversy Arises Over FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
There are some really big headlines out there in the world, and often on Mondays we end up talking about major international developments because that's just the way the world unfolds generally over a weekend.
But today we're going to be talking about an international story that has vast worldview significance, but isn't a matter of war and peace, at least not at the global level, but it is on a field. And we're talking about the FIFA World Cup games taking place right now in the small Persian Gulf emirate known as Qatar. And as you are looking at that very small peninsula that sticks out into the Arabian Gulf, you are looking at ground zero right now for some of the biggest controversies in world sport. And of course, you're also looking at ground zero for an awful lot of fan interest in sport, and in a particular sport known as association football. Americans typically call it soccer rather than football, as the shorthand often refers to the sport around the world.
Association football refers to soccer largely because of an 1863 development in the United Kingdom in Britain where the Football Association was established. Again, that was the year 1863. It was just nine years later that the Football Association established what became known as the FA Cup, still widely and fiercely contested there in the United Kingdom, but it is the FIFA World Cup and FIFA is actually a French organization by name. It's an international global body that supervises international football association football competition among national teams. It is known as FIFA controversially so right now, and that is a French term, but translated, it means the Federation International of Football Associations, FIFA.
Americans are often perplexed by association football or by soccer, again, known around the world primarily as football. But as you are looking at the American consternation, it is not just about sharing a different history of sport than that which is true much of the rest of the world. It's also about the fact that soccer, association football is infamously a low-scoring enterprise, which has always been a bit of a struggle for Americans. Americans like fast sports and high scores, and neither of those actually applies to football most of the time, to soccer. But as you're looking at the FIFA World Cup, you're looking at a great deal of controversy, but let's go back again. Let's just look at the history for a moment. How did organized soccer or football, especially on the international scene, develop?
Well, as you're looking at the history of sport, it is interesting that if you look at virtually all the cultures of the world, you are going to find young people kicking a ball. They're going to be kicking it at something, they're going to be kicking it at someone, they're going to be kicking it for some kind of competition and likely some kind of score. And even as you're looking at the sport, young men, boys have played soccer, and now of course, both boys and girls, men and women play soccer as it is known, but it is the men's competition at the World Cup that gets most of the headlines. And it goes back to the boys' private... They were formally known as public schools in Great Britain, but just to make us confused, what in Britain is called a public school is actually what in the United States we would call a private school.
The public schools, especially the elite public schools owned by associations of the public rather than by the state, that's why we would call them private schools. Those famous public schools, including Eton and Harrow and so many others, they had their boys on the field playing competitive sport and soccer, as we know it. Became one of those main sports, not the only one, there were also cricket and other sports involved, but soccer became, or football became a very great issue of competition among the schools, between the schools. And that led to competition beyond the schools as well. It was in 1848 at Cambridge University in England that the first major interscholastic set of rules was adopted.
So we're talking about evidence even in England as we know it itself right now, that going all the way back to the 8th century, there was something like the sport we know as soccer, at least kicking a ball competitively for a score. The reality is that football, as we know it, soccer as Americans now know it is just about 150 years old or so. Maybe soon, 200 years old in terms of organized play with sports according to the rules that most of us would now recognize.
By the way, there's another bit of mythology, which may be true. Indeed, there's reason to believe it is true, and that is the fact that those leaders, those school masters in those very elite schools in Britain schools for boys in particular, felt that during the Victorian age, too many of the boys were getting fat and flabby. And so the way to avoid them getting fat and flabby was to get them out on a field with a sport that basically required them to move all the time. That led to the understanding that if you keep them moving, you will keep them fit, you will keep them lean, and you will keep them at least for a time in your school.
Like so many other sports, football became not only internationalized, but also professionalized, especially over the course of the last hundred years, and in more recent decades, you have seen two big developments. One of them is commercial. FIFA football is now big, big money. Football associations, football clubs are massive billion-dollar propositions. And not only that, you are also looking at the globalization or internationalization of the sport, and that also goes back to the Victorian age. There are all kinds of reasons for it. For one thing, you had transportation, you had the ability with the advent, for example, in the early 20th century of what we now know was the Olympic tradition. You had all of these things happening and the opportunity was there for organized competition, not just between club teams, but between nations, national teams playing for national pride and national glory.
But the commercialization has also brought a great deal of money. And that has also to do with the fact that some of the biggest names, celebrity names in international sport are soccer players. And as you're looking at this, you also recognize that the very fact that this event is being held at this time of the year require some explanation. It would generally have been held during the hot weeks of the summer, but not in Qatar. And the reason for that is quite simple. It is incredibly hot, unhealthfully hot. The Qatari leaders had offered assurances that the stadiums would be temperature and atmospherically controlled to make the event safe, but the problem is the World Cup crowd can't be contained merely within all those stadiums. There would be a lot of action in the street, and that action was simply impossible under the conditions of the heat that would affect the summer months there in the Persian Gulf.
But the biggest controversies about Qatar hosting the World Cup games have to do with how the nation got the host position and how FIFA awarded to Qatar, the 2022 games, and then of course on the ground there, what is and is not happening and controversies about the host nation. And this raises a host of issues we need to think about, we need to consider closely. For one thing, what did happen even as the games were assigned to Qatar? Well, the answer is a lot of money happened one way or another. It was a controversy that took place about 10 years ago that actually led to criminal indictments and the toppling in most of the leadership of the International Soccer Association.
Qatar made the bid because it wanted the national attention and the national glory. And for one thing, there has been an effort among many of the Gulf states to try to raise their international profile by the use of this kind of sporting event or even a major series of sporting events such as what you now see in one Gulf Nation related to professional golf. But as you're looking at the FIFA World Cup, you go back 10 years, the controversy was so hot that it became acknowledged that two members of the committee that assigned the games were unable to vote because they had been caught accepting bribes. Or as The New York Times tells us, "Two committee members had not even been permitted to vote, they were suspended after undercover reporters recorded them trying to sell their ballots."
Just in case you're wondering how deep the controversy went, consider this report, "More accusations of corruption and bribery followed. The United States Department of Justice accused three South American voters of accepting seven-figure bribes to select Qatar." Within a few years, in fact, The Times tells us, almost every one of the 22 members of the committee who had participated in the vote had been accused or charged with corruption. Dozens of other executives had been arrested. Most were forced out of FIFA, and several were barred from soccer altogether. This included, by the way, the senior leadership in that international football or soccer association, but the games were not moved. That decision was basically made by the year 2015. Too much had been invested. Too much momentum had already been undertaken, and the games were instead moved to cooler months into November and December of this year, and the games were on. But the games were controversial as we have seen from the start, and they only got more controversial as the games approached and as they began.
Now, whenever in a fallen world you see the intersection of this much celebrity, this much public attention, this much money, this much global and international attention and political involvement, you're going to see all kinds of opportunities for trouble. There have been massive charges of corruption leveled at individuals, at individual nations, and at the organizing committee for the international Olympic games, and the same thing is true of FIFA. This is just another sign of how pervasive sin is, but it's also a sign of the fact that human beings are intensely interested in competition like this. Athletic competition, sports competition, yes, soccer competition, even as Americans would underline, an extremely notoriously low-scoring competition.
But there have been several big worldview issues implicated in the controversies once the games approached, and now as they have begun. For one thing, you have beer. No, you actually don't have beer. At least you don't have beer available as widespread as the crowds going to a traditional FIFA World Cup event would expect. And here there are charges and counter charges, Budweiser, by the way, to the tune of multiple millions of dollars, somewhere between 75 and $100 million. It turns out the Budweiser is extremely frustrated that the assurances made by the Qatari officials that indicated that beer would be available at least close to the stadiums. It turns out that hasn't worked out as had been planned. And of course, you're looking at the fact that Qatar is an Islamic country. It is officially committed to Islamic law, and that prohibits this kind of sale and consumption and celebration of alcohol. But it just shows you that when you're looking at these big events, much of it is actually fueled by sponsorship from the producers of alcoholic beverages. And they are also fueled by the sales of those alcoholic beverages to those who have gathered for the event.
Now, it doesn't take a great deal of Christian insight to understand that can be a very dangerous and combustible combination, but it also turns out that there will probably be something like an underground market going on there in Qatar. And this is an ongoing controversy as well, but that is small potatoes and controversy compared to two other issues. And these have to do with the use of labor to build the stadiums. Seven new stadiums, one vastly renovated stadium in order to host these events. We're talking about billions upon billions upon billions of dollars. And that was only made possible, by the way, because this little peninsula sticking out into the Persian Gulf, which was incredibly poor, instead with a major discovery of natural gas reserves turned out to be incredibly rich. It turns out that that little peninsula pushing out into the Persian Gulf is actually the world's largest single depository of usable natural gas. Ka-ching!
As The Times tells us, "The quest to host the World Cup then was just another step, the chance to announce themselves to tell their story on a truly global stage." But the criticisms have come fast and they have come furiously. One about the use of international labor to build these facilities. And this is something that most Americans simply don't think about, they don't know about. But one of the reasons why the Arab states are a collection of crossroads of international groups, particularly from India and from South Asia and from Africa, is because you are looking at relatively small native populations and relatively massive projects, economic expansion. This requires foreign workers and the foreign workers are brought in, they're brought in by the millions if you add all the Gulf states together, and they are brought in at what Westerners would consider very low wages. Living in conditions that we would not allow for American workers.
But as you're looking at this, you recognize this is not merely a Qatari problem. This is a problem throughout the entire Persian Gulf, but then it's not just limited to the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf just includes many of these states with massive petro-dollars to afford these workers. The fact is that other nations also use in effect what is underpaid laborers who are working under less than ideal conditions, let's just say that very clearly, and often separated from their families for a very long time. They use these workers in order to fuel their domestic industries, and this is just a major part of the controversy about the World Cup games in Qatar.
The Qatari leaders just respond by saying, look, it's not fair for you to celebrate what takes place in other nations that follow the same practices. You are just making yourself feel better by your moral critique of Qatar. It's a cheap thing, the Qatari leaders are arguing, for American and European and other global leaders to criticize Qatar, particularly in the news media when there has been a blind eye shown to other nations with the very same policies. This is going to raise a massive worldview issue we're going to consider in just a moment. But the second big issue has to do with what is reported in the international media as LGBTQ rights, or at least in some places just referred to as gay rights.
And let's just state the obvious, let me repeat myself. Qatar is an Islamic nation, not just in terms of having majority of the citizens who are Muslims. It is a Muslim nation in terms of constitutional status. It is a Muslim nation as in, according to the Quran, that which is allowed, is allowed; that which is forbidden, is forbidden. Not only by religion, but by law. And by the way, it's not just issues that are summarized by LGBTQ that are invoked in this controversy because there is a massive clash on array of moral issues between the West and Islam. But it does have to do with the fact, and we know this at home as well as we know it afar, it is the LGBTQ and gender issues that tend to be on the front line of media interest and a political controversy. And that is playing out right now in terms of the World Cup, just as it plays out on your local college campus or for that matter, your local school board meeting.
But Qatar would simply respond by saying, "Look, are you saying that these events can only be held in western democracies? Look, are you saying that these games can only be hosted by very liberal governments? Is this truly an international event? Does it reflect the international picture?"
Because if it does, the international picture does not mean that everyone does or that everyone wants to live under the conditions of a modern western liberal progressive regime.
Is the National Sports Stage Only for (Hypocritical) Western Democracies?: Qatar’s Public Case for Hosting the World Cup
Now, there are a couple of very important worldview issues that do come into play here, and it's good for Christians today as we're thinking about these issues to think about these two terms. Number one, sportswashing.
Now, what is sportswashing? Well, it has to do with washing one's reputation by holding a sporting or athletic event. It means to try to improve one's moral reputation or political standing by sportswashing, by investing hundreds of millions, billions, even trillions of dollars in sporting events to buy international credibility. Well, here it's interesting you say, well, if that's what the Gulf states are doing, if that's what Qatar is doing here, that's an interesting thing for us to observe. But it's also true that the same thing takes place in other arenas of sport, and some of it takes place in the West. Some of it takes place in the United States of America. Some of it takes place even as you're looking at the Olympics or at other kinds of international events.
And as you are looking at the sportswashing, you also need to recognize that all the sudden we see an intersection with another major international headline, and that is war in Ukraine. Because it turns out that an awful lot of the big money in the big money economy of many of the teams in association football or soccer, well, it turns out that the men behind much of that money are Russian oligarchs, or at least until recently, they had been Russian oligarchs. And we're looking at the fact that if you're going to talk about sportswashing from a Christian worldview perspective, that is not a morally irrelevant category. That's a very interesting moral category for us to consider, but it doesn't work just one way.
The second issue I want us to consider is performative moral outrage or performative morality. This is really something important for Christians to see because this isn't just playing out a guitar. It's not just playing out with a FIFA World Cup. It's not just playing out in sports, it's playing out locally, it's playing out on your local campus, in your local political discourse. Playing out on the American political scene in a big way. What is performative moral outrage? It is someone in order to gain attention and to add esteem to his or her person, to get behind a microphone and express outrage in a form of a performance outrage, which is intended to impress those about the moral rectitude of the one expressing the outrage.
MSNBC host, Ayman Mohyeldin, made this point in an interview with National Public Radio. He said that the controversy and criticism addressed to Qatar is actually revealing "the depths of Western prejudice, performative moral outrage, and gross double standards". He went on in the lengthy interview to make his case on all three of those charges. The point for us to consider is this. If you are looking at an endeavor that involves so much money, so much political intrigue, so much celebrity, so much international attention, if you are looking at an event that reflects human endeavor on this kind of scale, then you could expect to find the sinfulness of humanity made very clear just about everywhere you look.
It is Christians who should be unsurprised by this. This is why we understand the need for rules, the need for accountability, the need for transparency. This is why we understand the need for say on a sport, we need to have absolutely honest officials. We need to have absolutely clear rules in order that there can be a fair and just, not just a fair when it comes to sports, but a fair and righteous and just exhibition of human endeavor. And when you're dealing with sinful human beings, that takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of work on a little league field. It takes even more work if you're looking at the international context of the FIFA World Cup.
And we understand that the moral issues involved in the choice of a host, well, it does say a great deal about the sport, but the controversy also says a great deal about the sport. And what we see revealed, at least in part, is the performative moral outrage. I think Mr. Mohyeldin is absolutely correct about that. The performative moral outrage of so many in the progressive class, we often refer to them in the United States as the woke class, to declaring their moral righteousness by condemning Qatar because of its laws and its moral teachings that do not meet with or comport with the LGBTQ inclinations of the modern progressive West. And this helps conservative Christians to understand that at least a lot of what is directed at us is the very same thing, performative moral outrage. It is people believing that they are enhancing their moral stature by condemning the historic biblical understanding of marriage, gender, and sexuality held by the Christian Church.
If you've got a young person on a college or university campus, or if you are about to have a young person in that context, you had better arm them to face an onslaught of performative moral outrage.
‘Sportswashing’ and ‘Performative Moral Outrage‘: FIFA World Cup Brings Clash of Worldviews to the World Stage
In worldview terms, it's also interesting to note how little acts of symbolism become major acts of media interest.
And one of those, at least proposed acts was the fact that some teams indicated that in protest of the Qatari position on homosexuality, LGBTQ issues, that in solidarity with that community, they would wear a rainbow insignia on their uniforms, but then FIFA announced, no, they would not. It's also very revealing that when FIFA announced this policy that the teams could not wear those rainbow insignias, and even as a statement from the teams themselves, especially the European teams announced that they will be following the FIFA policy.
The article that began at The Hill, that's an American political site began this way: "Seven European teams competing at the FIFA World Cup scrapped plans to wear rainbow-printed armbands in support of LGBTQ rights, citing threats from FIFA to impose sanctions if the players went through with sporting the accessory."
I'll just end on this. It turns out that these teams wanted to take a very clear, very public, very deliberate, very intentional statement in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. But wait just a minute. It turns out they might pay a price for that. So nevermind, we won't.
The current FIFA president Gianni Infantino, well, according to the press reports, he hit back at critics in public remarks, and you just have to hear these remarks because this is a fitting end to the demonstration of moral confusion and corruption at this level of world sport. The president of FIFA said in a very confused and contorted effort at performative morality, he said, "Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker." Of course, he said, "I am not Qatari. I am not Arab. I am not African. I am not gay. I am not disabled. But I feel like it because I know what it means to be discriminated against, to be bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child, I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian." So imagine he then added even as an afterthought, "I feel like a woman too."
Well, I feel like he is lying, and the whole world knows it. But nonetheless, that's what passes for morality on the grand expanse and fascinating landscape of the FIFA World Cup games.
Oh, and finally, by the way, go U.S. Men's National Team.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.