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Will Cope, Sport Journalism Course Leader, looks at the FIFA World Cup 'off field' controversies of the last 48 hours

21st November 2022
Sport and fitnessHomepage - News - Standard

It has been reported that Gary Lineker's opening monologue, on how football would NOT be the only talking point of World Cup 2022, has divided fans. Will Cope, Sport Journalism Course Leader at Solent University, believes that we should embrace the opportunity to have those debates.

“So, here we are then, no sooner does the men’s FIFA football world cup kick off in Qatar and we are embroiled in controversy.

“First, just 48 hours before the tournament began, it was the news that alcohol would not be allowed to be served in the stadiums hosting the games. An astonishing late decision by the governing body who names Budweiser as a key top tier sponsor and official partner.

“Then, there was the astonishing speech from FIFA President Gianni Infantino who, amongst other things, accused ‘the west’ of hypocrisy for highlighting the rights of migrant workers who helped to build the stadiums, Qatar’s stance on gay liberties and the fact that women’s freedoms are heavily restricted.

“And then, ahead of the first match of the competition, we switch on our TV screens and see BBC presenter Gary Lineker deliver a monologue about how ‘off the field’ issues would not be ignored, and how football would NOT be the only talking point.

“In all honesty, I was pleased to hear it being broadcast, as that is something that would have been discussed and debated for days and weeks by the editors, producers and directors at the BBC.

“As a corporation, and even if you personally think differently, the Beeb strives to maintain objectivity on its platforms and tries to avoid opinion from its presenters. You could argue that this was not Lineker’s opinion, but rather he was merely voicing what was being discussed in homes, workplaces and the media around the nation.

"But, either way, too often we complain that our politicians, broadcasters and those with a position of authority are tone deaf to the issues of the day and regularly fail to read the mood of the room.

“Therefore, when issues are tackled, when the spotlight is put on topics of debate, we should embrace the opportunity to have those debates.

“Yes, football is what we want to watch, it is goals, victories and drama that we want to hear about, but we shouldn’t forget that many people have died in the construction of the stadia, there are Qatari people who fear for their lives due to their sexual beliefs and women do have to exist as second-class citizens.

“It isn’t and shouldn’t be a case of “well, if you don’t like what is going on in Qatar, don’t watch the tournament, don’t travel to the tournament or don’t work at the tournament.” It is possible to love football but hate what Qatar stands for. It is possible to marvel at the game but feel for the people who can’t be themselves in their homeland.

“We should talk about things that upset us, anger us or we don’t agree with. We shouldn’t avoid topics of conversation because they make some people feel uncomfortable. And we shouldn’t just focus on the football because that is what FIFA and the Qatari royal family would like us to do.

“FIFA and Qatar knew that in hosting the men’s football world cup there would be scrutiny. You can’t have your slice of the global cake and also eat it too; that is not the way of the modern world and nor should it be.

So, I applaud the BBC and I applaud the people who made those decisions. Report on football but don’t forget the lives of the people behind the football headlines. Enjoy the game but hold the rulers of the game to account. That is the way it has to be for this tournament and every future tournament.”

Will Cope is an accomplished football radio commentator and reporter who has covered domestic, European and international matches and tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and the FA Cup. You can read more about Will on his academic profile here.