I was all ready to go. I had a decent little theory about the shirt sponsorship written down and I had some ginned up outrage planned, it was all set. Then I wake up this morning to find that everyone’s favorite benevolent football dictator (no, not Laporta, though that title might have applied last year) has used his bully pulpit to weigh in on human rights and his own ham-fisted morality ideals. Responding to criticism of FIFAs decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which has very strict laws concerning consensual homosexual conduct between adults, Blatter stated:
I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities. . . . We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I’m sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems. You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it’s another culture because it’s another religion, but in football we have no boundaries. We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever.
With these comments, Blatter has not only pissed off a ton of commentators and groups, he’s also taking FIFA down a slippery slope that I am sure is inadvisable: not only setting your games up in Qatar under highly dubious circumstances, but then butting into the personal sexual lives of fans. Er, um, like I am going to let this slide.
Now before we move on, let me go ahead and address some of the more familiar canards that are going to crop up in response to this:
1. It was just a joke, stop being so sensitive. Please, go jump in a hole. Of course, it’s always so fun to joke about people being denied human rights so you can make money. If this was supposed to be a joke, then it was not funny. Making people feel unsafe to attend your event, oh so funny. Joking is one thing, discrimination is a bridge too far.
2. “Luke, this is a Barcelona Football Blog you idiot, why do we care what Blatter says?” Because Blatter is the leader of the footballing world, for better or worse. He is the face of the governing body to which all other governing bodies report, including UEFA and RFEF. It also matters because FC Barcelona is an international club that certainly has openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (collectively known in the US as “LGBT”) fans. Those fans do not deserve to be discriminated against for any reason, period, if they hope or want to attend the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. Likewise, any player on the club, present or past, who might be a closeted homosexual or has friends or family who are offended by these statements should not be subjected to the type of persecution that comments such as these effect. Make no mistake, these comments affect every fan, player, coach, and spectator of football, because they show the official custom that FIFA takes toward such matters: “Money is king, we don’t care about human rights.”
3. “What does it matter what Qatar does, FIFA cannot police everything.” Well yeah, that’s true, they can’t. But they also certainly should not go so far as to host THEIR event, the biggest sporting event in the world by far, in a place where the very fact of being homosexual is in itself illegal. This argument might hold more weight (though not much), if FIFA didn’t hail itself as the protector of the beautiful game, which has the power to change the fate of nations and of wars and the fortune of those that is contacts. FIFA has attempted to stamp out racism, with results, though I think they never go far enough in doing so. Something that would hurt the bottom line like imposing heavy fines and sanctions against federations, and therefore leagues and clubs, that tacitly or explicitly allow racism of any kind might do the trick. Then again, they risk pissing off that group and losing support. So “boo racism unless it might make for a financially sticky situation.”
The issue is that, rightly or wrongly, football is given a special place in many cultures around the world and has the power to make positive changes for the betterment of society, both locally and internationally. FIFA is right, it can and does help people. However, comments such as Blatter’s undermine any such goal and show the ugly truth of the matter: sports, and sadly football, have become one of the last arenas of the modern world where institutionalized homophobia still exists and is ok. This is of course not to say that many clubs are staunch opponents of such actions, and groups such as Redcard Homophobia are outspoken critics, but the truth still shows that, as far as I know, no major professional footballer in any upper league or on any national team has come out as openly gay recently, even though you can be most certainly assured that they exist and that having to hide who they truly are is a byproduct of what should be a bygone system that used to attack players for being born black or raised Jewish. For an institution that characterizes itself as some group hellbent on showing football to all corners of the earth, it sure is doing a wonderful job of alienating those that are different.
4. “You don’t know how it is there, you’ve never been to Qatar.” Yes, that’s true, I have never been there. Then again, I’ve also never been to Somalia, but I wouldn’t want to take a boat ride off the coast there either. Also, like you, I can read. Black letter law in Qatar states that homosexuality is illegal and may result in imprisonment. But then I hear, “but they never arrest anyone for it.” Ok, well why does Sepp Blatter then feel he has to tell homosexuals to stop being themselves for a month or so in 2022? If it’s just some crazy old law on the books that never gets prosecuted (as American anti-sodomy laws were prior to being ruled unconstitutional inLawrence v. Kansas), then why is Sepp tooting the discriminatory horn loud and clear? Most likely because he knows that he has chosen to set up the games (and make no mistake, Qatar as the choice was definitely his doing) in a place where homosexuality is outlawed and is not even seen as a cultural taboo, it’s seen as just plain wrong. Blatter knows this, he apparently does not care.
5. “Ah yes, but Qatar has higher tolerance for civil rights than other countries.” Er, ok? Is this an argument or are you just fishing? Qatar does in fact rank higher in terms of the civil rights it allows than many other Middle Eastern nations, but that’s neither here nor there, so put your strawman down. This is not about being a sore loser to Qatar’s bid or any such thing, it’s an issue about human rights and FIFA, not content simply to ignore the issue, openly politicking against a group with an immutable characteristic. Ugh.
The long story, short here is that this is a problem of FIFAs own doing. Instead of reaching toward those lofty characteristics that FIFA is always carping on and on about, Blatter basically made it even more difficult for homosexual players to be more open about their lifestyle, and that’s no mean feat. It has never been a simple process for any professional athlete, the two most notable seem to be John Amaechi, former NBA player, and Gareth Thomas, world-renowned Welsh rugby star. The Guardian also notes the story of Justin Fashanu, former footballer who openly admitted he was gay only to suffer reproach from the famous manager Brian Clough. His comming out led to a number of issues:
The sad chaos of Fashanu’s life, which ended by his own hand in 1998 at the age of 37, can be gauged by the list of clubs attached to his name. There were 22 in 19 years as his career spiralled out of control.
This is no laughing matter. Blatter’s comments were patently offensive, short-sighted, and above all stupid. The worst part of it all was that he knew it too. The first comment came out, and almost immediately some mitigating factor spews forth: “woah, let’s not offend Qatar, I mean, oh shit, um, but football is without borders, yes, without borders.” Are you fucking kidding me? Blatter openly passes on discrimination against gay people, but you know, maybe one day we will look back on this and laugh. Not that it’s going to change whether Qatar gets the World Cup, because they paid good money, so they most certainly will. And maybe, just maybe, through the goodness of their hearts, they’ll find it within themselves to stop discriminating within 12 years. Oh geez, thanks Sepp. Nice silver-lining there.
Amaechi has taken a stand against this, and may have said it best here:
The statements and the position adopted by Sepp Blatter and FIFA regarding LGBT fans who would pay the enormous ticket and travel prices to attend the World Cup in 2022 should have been wholly unacceptable a decade ago . . . Instead, with little more than an afterthought, FIFA has endorsed the marginalization of LGBT people around the world. If sport cannot serve to change society, even temporarily during the duration of an event like the World Cup, then it is little more than grown men chasing a ball and we should treat it as such. . . . He’s really saying don’t even ‘look’ gay, re-closet yourself and pretend the ties and love and affection you have for your partner or even some random bloke you might meet on your travels are gone for the whole time you are in Qatar.
Whether you personally like, know, or interact with homosexuals in your day-to-day life is inconsequential as to this discussion. Blatter stepped out of his realm and got in over his head into a discussion that he should never have been having in the first place. The slippery slope here is that FIFA is simply ignoring the elephant in the room of blatant discrimination, and even enabling it. This is not a game, at least not to the people this kind of ignorance affects. You may not feel personally offended here, but the precedent is here for FIFA, and possibly other feeder federations, to ignore and mock the rights of fans, players, coaches, and humans in general in order to get another dollar is not a road we want to go down.
Sepp Blatter should be ashamed. FIFA should be ashamed. We should speak out against such things as loudly as possible. I hope I have done that.
Editor note: I meant to add this originally but forgot to
Before taking a position on this if you are on the fence, please remember these things: while you may not be gay or even care for gay people, remember that there are certain parts of who we are as people that cannot be changed, and we are born that way. Then take yourself out of the situation completely, forget that you are white, straight, black, Russian, disabled, female, Muslim, Brazilian, lesbian, or whatever. These are immutable characteristics that I mentioned earlier: race, sex, age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion (or lack thereof); those things that cannot be changed and are inalienable to all of us. When you take yourself away and you realize that throughout history all of these factors have been discriminated against, and still are, in every country and culture.
That is why the philosopher John Rawls proposed his “Veil of Ignorance” when discussing morality and what rights should be afforded to people. Right now, you hopefully exist as a person who is free to marry who you want (not in most parts of America sadly), worship who / what you want, work where you want / can, and live where you so choose. However, imagine instead that you are distributing rights to an unknown group of people, how would you apportion them? Rawls in A Theory of Justice
[N]o one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like . . . .
In short, you apply rights as broadly as you can, because when you then enter that society, you have no idea whether you will be the one who is being oppressed. If by the birth lottery you were born, white, straight, American, healthy, are of voting age, own property, and Christian, you probably have the most broad rights in the country in 2010. Then again, if you are born black, straight, African, healthy, and of voting age, own no property, and may be Christian, you might have very broad rights, unless of course you’re entering American society in 1750. Then you are going to be in for terrible treatment.
Basically the end point is: don’t be so quick to judge others based on those characteristics, because you may find yourself being oppressed for something you cannot change, and then you would want someone to help you out.