There are two types of teams in every World Cup. Those who go there to play, doing everything humanly possible to make their fans joyful and proud back home. Then there is an increasing number of European teams that seem to have forgotten what football is about and instead, consider their foremost mission to use the platform for ideological messaging at every cost. I get it that some countries have let their national character erode over the last decades and now resort to wokeism for pride and purpose, but what some teams are doing is really getting embarrassing. Especially if you try to lecture the same people whose culture supposedly brings the highest qualities of diversity to you in the form of immigration.
Just to recap some of the finest moments of the World Cup so far: it all started with an armband.
A rainbow-coloured armband promoting ‘One Love’, that the English, German and French (and four other) captains initially planned to wear in the field as a messianic middle finger to the Qatari government for its strict laws against homosexuality. Because a few millionaires chasing a ball with a rainbow band on their arms would truly make the most oppressed feel better, wouldn’t they? Anyway, the Qatari government did what every host country would have, which is to not let themselves be humiliated by some uppity guests and simply deny the Europeans the right to virtue-signal as they please. Or rather, they pressured FIFA to do that for them, which didn’t dare to anger the organisers of the tournament right before the start.
But our boys are not ready to give up so easily, are they? During their first match, six players on the German team wore rainbow stitching on their boots in a courageous act of defiance. The same team used warm-up tops with rainbow stripes on their sleeves before the kick-off, and covered their mouths during their own national anthem, protesting FIFA’s decision. So brave! The cascade of virtue-signalling didn’t end there, of course. As customary, the English team decided to take a knee before every match this year to honour Black Lives Matter, which was especially amusing to see when they played against the United States—the home of the anti-racist movement—whose players remained standing. Harry Kane, the captain of the English team took it up a notch in his personal protest over the armband ban: he arrived at the first match wearing a half a million pounds worth rainbow-coloured Rolex. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a statement of inclusion or just a showing off of wealth. Still, the award for the most humiliatingly embarrassing take on the whole issue must go to British Channel 4 for producing their protest anthem for the World Cup. I’m sure a song like this will immediately make Qatar reconsider its policies on homosexuality, and possibly even rewrite the Quran while at it.
Now the point I’m trying to make is not that homosexuals aren’t persecuted in a great number of Muslim countries, including Qatar, because they are. But that’s always been the case with religious Muslim societies, which, by the way, I don’t remember being challenged by Western mainstream media when the point was to make us accept millions of immigrants from the very same countries. No, my point is that
these petty stunts will hardly change anything, except maybe make other cultures disrespect the West even more.
And there’s a clear reason why.
First, we can’t just apply Western terminology and morals to different cultures and expect immediate understanding from everyone. What we mean by homophobia makes no sense in the context of the Middle East, where societies have successfully preserved centuries or millennia-old social structures and traditions that stem from fundamental religious values. Just because Europe has undergone a process of deep secularisation, it doesn’t mean that it has happened or even should happen elsewhere. In the non-Western perspective, what we decide to be human rights are just that: subjective choices and not objective, universal truths.
Europeans seem to forget that the world never stopped being revisionist at its core. It never forgot European imperialism, the endless extraction of wealth over the centuries, the borders that we arbitrarily drew between former colonies to accommodate our strategic needs, nor the proxy wars and interventions that benefitted only us. Yet, for the most part of the 20th century, various regions of the world still looked up to the West, admiring its civilisational accomplishments. Most countries regarded Western powers as models for their own development. While the majority were never interested in adopting Western culture, they still sought to implement Western institutions back home, fashion their governance after ours and be part of the Western-led international networks. Not because they agreed with our values but because they saw that our systems worked. And in order to have access to funding for their development, they even endured certain degrees of moral lecturing as well. Until they didn’t.
The West was never loved, it was respected.
But respect requires strength, or at least the projection of strength, and that has been steadily declining for at least twenty years now. First, 9/11 showed the world that the direct defiance of the US-led world order was no longer a taboo. It also brought about the most catastrophic wave of American interventionism, stoking the Middle East’s resentment. The crash of 2008 made it clear that the West was no longer the safest choice for the financial leader of the world and its institutions aren’t as responsible as previously thought.
And by the middle of the 2010s, all remaining trust and respect started to dissipate as we entered a pointless culture war over gender-neutral bathrooms. When the third world looks at us now, it doesn’t see a continent engaging in a welcome moral transformation. No, all they see is weakness. If our foremost concern as a civilisation is to make sure that LGBTQ+ people are properly represented in the media, then why should they follow us anymore? No culture would entrust the leadership of the globe to those who can’t even decide if they are boys or girls.
And now these Western countries want to lecture an Arab country on its own laws. A country with a rich national culture and immense wealth, which is in no way dependent on any of them. It is only natural that Qatar won’t allow any of the Western ideological statements to be displayed openly. Now, what England, Germany and the rest could have done is to quietly accept the rules and go and play like they were supposed to. Instead,
they threw a tantrum that only reinforced the perception that has been around about the West for some time now: that it’s no longer in charge.
I believe the violent persecution of minorities and various disenfranchised groups should be challenged at international fora and on the level of public diplomacy, and not in the football field with embarrassing stunts, like clinging onto irrelevant armbands. Also, Western societies need to finally understand that we lost the right to feel and act morally superior. If diversity and inclusion are truly what motivate us, at least we should try to include the diversity of thought and values as well. We need frameworks that do not disrespect others but address their points of view and accommodate every approach. But that is the job of politicians, of course. Not some football players who think they can save the world with colourful Rolexes.