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What does it mean to take a stand if it costs you nothing?

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I think most football fans – at least those of us disinclined to take international football overly seriously – were more than a little apprehensive about this World Cup. Granted, the tournament will always mean something – it does crown the world champions after all.

However, with the inevitable political realities of bringing all parts of the world together for a few football matches, there were fears this event might have something of an un-football-like feel, and those fears have become reality.

Given none of you readers live under a rock, you’ll all be aware the awarding of the biggest sporting event in the world to Qatar – now over a decade ago – was somewhat controversial. This is due to the smallness of the country and its historical lack of football culture, the fact it is located in a desert and had to be played outside the usual World Cup window and, last but not least, the fact that those who awarded it to them were allegedly bribed.

But usually what happens for such events is all the outrage is left at the door and we all just get on with the game. Those who care not for politics simply drown out the noise with a healthy dose of sport, and those pesky political junkies tend to quiet down. We should have known this might all be a little different when former FIFA chief Sepp Blatter – the man most responsible for the event’s location – declared, basically on the eve of the tournament, that Qatar shouldn’t be the hosts because the country is too small. And with that, millions of heads dropped into hands the world over.

Then current FIFA chief, the appropriately named Gianni Infantino, made a bizarre speech in which he stated: “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel a migrant worker”. Lest we be concerned that this tournament would fail to unite us all, we can now at least unite over the idea that this is the stupidest thing ever uttered by any person. Even more stupid, perhaps, than the very same Infantino who also declared all Europeans should spend the next 3000 years apologising for their sins.

So much for just enjoying the football.

But stupidity and empty posturing certainly haven’t been limited only to FIFA chiefs. No, the stunning bravery has found itself on the football field. Well, sort of. As we all know, anyone feeling more than a little uncomfortable about the state of human rights in Qatar but who still wants to enjoy the tournament can alleviate their guilt by mouthing basic platitudes. You even get to be lauded for doing so.

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For example, a group of nine European nations had agreed their captains would wear rainbow armbands in the name of inclusivity and support, or something, in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Stunning. And brave.

Of course when FIFA told those nations their captains would be given a yellow card for wearing the armbands, they quickly relented.

The Iranian players, other the other hand, all refused to sing the national anthem of Iran in their opening game against England as a form of protest against their government, which is violently and in hundreds of cases fatally cracking down on people for taking a stand against the murder of a 22-year-old woman who didn’t cover up enough of her skin.

So let’s just break this down: nine football nations had endless praise showered upon them for almost wearing an armband but then choosing not to because they didn’t want yellow cards, while 11 Iranians took a stand that might lead to far more serious repercussions and basically no-one said anything.

Anyone who made a bigger deal about the armbands than about the Iranians is a hypocrite and a disgrace.

Considering wearing an armband is not brave. The Iranians risked their own lives. Yet only one of these groups is being lauded.

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This isn’t an article calling for ‘politics’ to be kept out of sport. It’s more nuanced than that. If politics must be in sport, let’s please be coherent about it. Stop lumping praise on people who take a stand but who stand to lose absolutely nothing.

And for anyone concerned by the sense that I’m missing the bigger picture, I ask: do you think anyone of these people are going to care about Qatar the moment the tournament is over? Because I somehow doubt those claiming the tournament can be a ‘vehicle for change’ in Qatar will check back in to see how those human rights are coming along once the tournament is complete.

Those people, I suspect, only care about Qatar because football is happening there, and even then they don’t actually care about it at all. The preening and posturing are cringeworthy in the extreme.

Today, Gianni Infantino feels a migrant worker. He won’t tomorrow.

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