This is what tomorrow’s Independent front page should read. “FIFA world cup results: a victory for dictatorships.”
For anyone who hasn’t seen, football’s governing body have announced the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
First there is the 2018 host Russia – a country plagued by electoral abuses, declining religious freedom, corruption, and where the use of violence against political opponents, journalists and human rights activists is barely concealed.
Then there is Qatar, the host for 2022; an absolute monarchy, where the Emir is both head of state and head of government. While there have been liberal reforms and the brilliant Al Jazeera is partly based out of Doha, the state is far from free. Five years after agreeing to elections for a Consultative Council, these still have not happened and don’t look like happening anytime soon.
In 2010 both these countries were ranked as “not free” by Freedom House. Qatar scored a political rights score of 6 (with 7 being the worst), and a civil liberties score of 5. Russia received the exact same scoring. Way to go to supporting the world’s freest sport.
And for us journos, these events may be even harder to cover than the Beijing Olympics. According to Reporters without Borders data, in 2010 out of 178 countries in the world Russia and Qatar ranked 140th and 121st in the world. Last year the director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom resigned following government pressure.
I know football isn’t meant to be political, but it inevitably is; under Franco the Neu Camp was the only public place where Catalans were allowed to speak their language, in the Second World War a Ukranian team was told to lose to a team of conquering Germans but won instead, and were eventually shot. Need I go on?
Football is politics by other means. By giving the World Cup to two undemocratic states, FIFA is making a worrying political statement.