Don’t hate the player, hate the game
A brief thought about the World Cup
Hi all, I find myself inexplicably deep in my feels, so just wanted to share this quick thought.
While we’re all navigating the end of the year, the 2022 World Cup is now underway. Beyond being a very 2022 thing to say, it feels weird to be put into words.
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For the rest of this piece, let’s take it as a given that this tournament shouldn’t be played this time of year, and that the choice of venue reminds us that power corrupts.
Yet I have seen folks online celebrating Qatar’s opening match defeat to Ecuador, as if justice has been served. And that, I feel less certain about. What I imagine is young(ish) footballers given the chance to show what they can do on a global stage, a chance to make their nation and families proud.
I visualize them waking up this morning with the same nagging doubts my inner voice sometimes say to me - those feelings that attack your self worth, that tell you you’re not good enough.
If you’re an elite player drawing an elite salary, then this is part of it. But do the individual members of the Qatari team deserve to feel like the whole world is against them? The starting XI of Ecuador is one thing, the combined weight of expectation and schadenfreude, something entirely else.
This squad has earned their stripes on the pitch. They are the champions of Asia, winning the Asian Cup in 2019 after defeating both regional powerhouses, South Korea and Japan, in the knockout round.
Their guest appearances in the Copa América (South American championship) and the CONCACAF Gold Cup (Caribbean, Central and North American regional championship) show they can hold their own. They advanced to the semi-finals of the Gold Cup and were knocked out by a late US match winner.
Nobody should be allowed to take that away from them, yet anyone who opines on their team’s strength without recognizing their past performance does so. The reality is, they had more than a decent chance to qualify for this tournament on their own merits.
The World Cup is different, of course. But that is what makes it so great. The world’s biggest single sporting event, a tournament that literally unites the world in celebration of this sport that so many of us love.
As much as I feel unease about this World Cup and its host nation, I wish it weren’t so easy for it to deepen our divisions. I worry about how its story may feed into anti-Muslim feelings, and specifically anti-Arab sentiment.
So let’s absolutely direct our rage at FIFA and the powers in Qatar - they are accountable for this fiasco. Boycott the sponsors or the telecast, if you choose to do so. But let’s also collectively celebrate the players - all of them (except Cristiano Ronaldo) - and what they’ve gone through to get to this point. It’s their striving that gives this tournament meaning.
While we can’t solve the most prominent injustice at hand, we can control how we respond to it. And what is worse than responding to injustice by further injustice?
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