An activist from Extinction Rebellion sets up a banner, during a protest against the soccer World Cup being held in Qatar on Saturday in Berlin, Germany. AP photo

Sportswashing sounds almost tasteful, a clean and tidy word for one of the the most disgraceful acts in politics.

Even if you don’t know what it is, you’ve certainly heard of it. At its simplest definition, sportswashing is the means by which ill-reputed governments or corporations attach themselves and their dollars to sports in order to polish their reputations.

Sportswashing is how a country like Qatar came to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Maligned for its numerous human rights violations in building the massive infrastructure needed for the smallest country ever to host a World Cup, Qatar borders Saudi Arabia. Laws in Qatar outlaw homosexuality — punishable with prison time — and religions other than Islam. Widespread accusations of corruption, bribery and scandal in securing the right to host the World Cup have persisted since the nation’s selection as World Cup host in 2015.

Those attending the World Cup in person over the next few weeks will not be allowed access to alcohol at matches (unless joining the illuminati in a luxury suite), will not be permitted to bare skin, and anti-Qatari speech is outlawed.

As excellently detailed in the documentary “FIFA Uncovered,” released recently on Netflix’s streaming service, Qatar was granted this World Cup for one reason and one reason only.



Qatari officials are hopeful that this World Cup — orchestrated entirely in stadiums, housed in hotels and utilizing highways constructed after Qatar was named to host — will clean up the Arab nation’s poor global reputation.

It’s sportswashing, plain and simple, casting a dark shadow over what otherwise holds promise as one of the best on-field World Cups in recent memory.

Because most soccer federations hold their seasons from September through May, World Cups are typically held during the summer months. Qatar’s extreme summer temperatures necessitated a move to a different time of year, and the best players in the world are in midseason form for this Cup.

The United States, after failing to qualify for the tournament in 2018, boasts the youngest squad in the tournament with something to prove. Unlike in decades past, all of the American’s best players play in Europe’s top leagues.

There is no clear-cut favorite. Belgium, France, Argentina, Brazil, Germany — throw any of them in a hat and enjoy the chaos. Croatia, England, Denmark, Mexico and the Netherlands could all be in the mix with a little luck.


Add in that, here in the United States, the tournament takes place between the two biggest holidays on the calendar in Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a recipe better than anything your aunt could cook up.

Unlike American football or baseball, or cricket and rugby, soccer is simple with a simple objective. Kick the ball into the other team’s net. From the youngest children in the poorest neighborhoods on the planet to the most intelligent managers on the sidelines during the tournament, the game appeals to a global audience.

The World Cup celebrates all that makes the game — The Beautiful Game — wonderful. The tournament promotes diversity at its finest, a wealth of personality, culture and national identity, all of which populates the fields and the grandstands throughout the three-plus weeks of play.

Unfortunately, in 2022, that celebration will be muted.

It will be bleached starchy white, devoid of any and all distinctions between the participating nations and their individual soccer philosophies, by sportswashing.

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