Could the Qatar World Cup be a turning point for ethics in sport? | Letters

Could the Qatar World Cup be a turning point for ethics in sport?

Dr Mike Diboll on our complicity in human rights abuses, Karl Eklund on apartheid South Africa, Antony Barlow on the UK’s own failings, and Stan Labovitch on why he won’t boycott watching the World Cup

Qatar supporters take their seats ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Senegal

Nesrine Malik is correct: Putin’s Russia does “hunt” its exiled dissidents (It’s not just Qatar hoping we now ‘put politics aside’. It’s the hypocritical west, too, 21 November). Saudi Arabia does so too, for example Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Yet Saudi Arabia still gets to host a Formula One grand prix, so-called Clash on the Dunes boxing matches, and international golfing. The 2012 Bahrain grand prix went ahead amid torture and the shooting dead of unarmed protesters. Malik is also right to stress that our governments arm the Gulf states, provide them with surveillance technology, PR, political and diplomatic cover, and – in a situation where sovereign wealth is often hard to distinguish from private hyper-wealth – safe havens for blood money.

In return for turning a blind eye to grotesque human rights abuses and institutional homophobia and misogyny, “we” get cheap hydrocarbons, “inward investment” that melds our economy with those of the Gulf states, a regional “security” stance and, in the case of Bahrain, a Royal Navy base. Gulf sportswashing has a wider context, and it is a sad reflection on us that human rights abuses only occasionally come to the fore during sporting events, and media debate is so often mired in anti-Arab racism.

“We” are sordidly complicit in these abuses. If the UK’s commitment to human rights is to be meaningful, this has to stop. I speak from experience, having worked on one of Bahrain’s “reform” projects, only to have to flee the country because of my advocacy for students’ academic freedoms and human rights.
Dr Mike Diboll
Former academic head of professional development at Bahrain Teachers

As a South African born in the 1970s, I can well remember the way that country was rightly shunned by the rest of the world for its racist policies and its brutality in carrying them out. Starting with the Olympics in the 1960s, we were steadily frozen out of international competition. There were, of course, occasions when white South African money talked – the annual Sun City $1m golf challenge being the most obvious. By and large, however, in the mid-1980s South Africa was a pariah, where only “rebel” teams visited, often facing protests on tour and disciplinary action on their return home.

For us, politics and sport were inextricably linked, but it was a matter beyond politics: it was a matter of ethics. In western countries, much of the opposition to South African participation was led by the general public, who were often ahead of their governments in condemning the apartheid regime.

Thus, in recent decades, I have gone from disappointment to bitter resignation as I repeatedly saw the biggest international sporting events landing in countries run by some of the world’s most brutal regimes. In that context, the backlash about the current Fifa World Cup being held in Qatar gives me some hope that maybe politics – or, more importantly, ethics – is coming back into sport. Maybe Fifa has finally bitten off more than the public will swallow. If so, at least something good will come out of this otherwise repugnant spectacle.
Karl Eklund

Concerning demonstrations in Qatar, while we would all wish for a greater acceptance of the LGBQT+ community, observance of migrant rights and greater freedoms for women, it ill behoves us to be holier than thou about these difficult matters. As a gay man, it was illegal for me to take part in sexual activity with another man when I was at university, and this only changed within living memory. Indeed, still today many people are scared to come out and homophobia exists in many areas of our daily life.

Nor can we be proud if we look at the treatment of the Windrush generation and the discrimination they received on arrival in this country, many of whom have still not received compensation from the Home Office for wrongful attempts to deport them in recent years. And again, we all know of instances of racial discrimination in sport, and the terrible way in which immigrants are still dealt with.

As for the way we treat women, once more we have no cause for smugness, with almost daily accounts of appalling behaviour from the police; and though there are many women in high positions in this country, there exist many areas of life where it is still a man’s world such as the legal profession and the entertainment industry.

The suffragettes’ campaign for female emancipation is only just beyond present memory and my mother’s generation was largely expected to stay at home to look after the children. So, let’s by all means protest and seek to change other’s views, but we are far from perfect too.
Antony Barlow
Wallington, Surrey

Mihir Bose expresses exactly my view on the moral dilemma facing those wishing to watch the Qatar World Cup (I hate the very idea of this World Cup in Qatar, but I’ll have to watch: it’s the beautiful game, 19 November). After my first visit to see a Leeds game, I too realised that the game resonated far beyond the field of play. It was like an out-of-body experience.

In spite of the corrupt nature of Fifa and its attitude towards human rights – which must be tackled at source, not during a tournament when it’s too late – football remains a potent source of hope and belief for millions, much as religion used to be. Bose is right: we will watch the World Cup in the hope that the humanity in the beautiful game outweighs the uglinesses of the path it has taken. We love this game because it is much bigger than cynicism and power politics. We cannot do otherwise.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

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