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Published: 19:06, November 24, 2022
Western media should not politicize the World Cup
By Tony Kwok
Published:19:06, November 24, 2022 By Tony Kwok

While the world’s soccer fans get a huge kick out of watching the thrilling matches in the first two days of the Qatar World Cup, including the magnificent performance of England’s team in beating Iran with an impressive score of 6-2 on the second day, it is needlessly distracting of the BBC to make a mountain out of a molehill with its headline report titled World Cup 2022: Iran Players Decline to Sing National Anthem.

The article reported that the Iranian players were seen to have declined to sing their national anthem before their World Cup match with England “in an apparent expression of support for anti-government protests in their home country”.

The article suggested that their gesture was in protest against their government for suppressing the ongoing public demonstrations sparked by the death in custody in September of a 22-year-old woman who was detained by the morality police for allegedly breaking the strict rules on the wearing of head coverings for women.

Despite the Iranian government having solemnly undertaken to conduct a fair and thorough investigation into the matter, the isolated incident has exploded into a countrywide anti-government campaign that saw violent clashes between protesters, mainly women and students, and the security forces. 

This seems typical of the modus operandi of some Western political activists as they attempted to ignite another “color revolution”. Indeed, the Iranian government has concluded that the violent social unrest that has engulfed their country is being orchestrated by some Western governments. I tend to agree. This view would most likely be shared by many Hong Kong residents who witnessed how the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s overdue attempt to revise the extradition law in 2019 was distorted and hijacked by radical activists and supported by foreign governments; and who launched a coordinated campaign to overthrow the legitimate HKSAR government.

Despite the Western media and governments’ badmouthing of Qatar, there is little doubt that the Qatar World Cup will be remembered as a great success

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After the match, Iran’s national coach, the Portuguese Carlos Queiroz, said the political unrest at home had taken a toll on his squad. He complained, “You can’t imagine what it’s like behind the scenes for these kids in the last few days.” He continued, “To those who come to disturb the team with issues that are not about football, they’re not welcome because our players are just simple football boys.” 

He was obviously referring to the many opponents of the Islamic republic who have criticized the soccer team for not openly supporting the protests. He appealed: “Let the kids play the game. Because this is what they’re looking for. They wanted to represent the country, to represent the people, as any other national team that is here. And all national teams have issues back home.”

Therefore, it’s conceivable that the Iranian players did not sing their national anthem not because they wanted to protest against their government, but rather, they dared not risk upsetting Iran’s critics. Quite clearly their performance was detrimentally affected by the loud chanting of anti-Iran slogans in the stadium.

The BBC presenter, commenting on the scene, said: “It was a powerful and very, very significant gesture. Football is trying to use its power for good!”

The BBC comment aptly reflects the biased mentality of the Western media, which conveniently turned the World Cup into an anti-Muslim propaganda tool. Indeed, all along, they held thinly disguised racial prejudice against Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup and had persistently attacked the world football association, FIFA, for awarding the hosting rights to Qatar, criticizing its alleged human rights track record, and had for many years called for a boycott of the event but fortunately to no avail.

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They also criticized Qatar for criminalizing homosexuality, a common feature in most Muslim countries, and called for all players to wear LGBTQ ribbons in protest, showing their utter disregard for other countries’ culture and religion. FIFA rightly stepped in and prohibited such a practice.

BBC had even earlier boycotted the broadcasting of the opening ceremony and instead put in place a special prepackaged program on Qatar’s “questionable human rights record and the controversy surrounding the tournament”. This showed not only needless disrespect but ingratitude to the host country that gave them the broadcasting rights. 

It provoked outrage from BBC license fee payers for missing the opportunity to watch the glitzy ceremony. Many accused the BBC of improper censorship, virtue signaling and hypocrisy! As one commentator said on social media, “If you don’t agree with Qatar’s human rights record, why are you there then!”

FIFA has urged the teams to focus on soccer and not let the sport be dragged into ideological and political controversies. In response to the Western criticism, FIFA President Gianni Infantino finally lost his patience and at the news conference on the eve of the game, openly accused the Western countries of hypocrisy, saying, “Europe should address its past crimes before pointing fingers at Qatar!” He said: “I’m European. For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to other people!” Indeed, the true spirit of the World Cup is to unite the world irrespective of the different countries’ culture and religion. But the Western media are doing just the opposite!

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Despite the Western media and governments’ badmouthing of Qatar, there is little doubt that the Qatar World Cup will be remembered as a great success. 

With more than 1 million soccer fans visiting Qatar, they will witness how a small country with only 11,586 square kilometers and 2.8 million residents, and much of the country a barren sandy plain, has in a short time succeeded in building eight new modern stadiums, dozens of modern hotels, new highways, new port facilities, and the most advanced solar energy stations, LED displays, an electric-car city transport network and IT system, and expanded its airport, all largely thanks to the professional assistance of the teams of experienced experts it recruited from China. 

Indeed, the World Cup provides an ideal opportunity to showcase China’s impressive prowess in construction, engineering, high technology, and infrastructure development.

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Finally, on the morning after the BBC broadcast, the RTHK saw it fit to highlight the Iranian players’ refusal to sing their national anthem! What criteria do the RTHK news editors use in prioritizing their morning headline news? Is it a veiled reference to the recent national anthem scandal during Hong Kong rugby matches, or acting as a mouthpiece for the BBC?

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space, and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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