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World Cup decision sucks
by Roger Brigham

Somewhere, Justin Fashanu is turning over in his grave.

Honoring traditional roots? Strategically expanding the sport? Building on existing foundations? Playing where human rights are guaranteed for the many and not reserved for the select few? Or, who knows – maybe picking a spot where players actually want to play? All could have been reasonable grounds for the Federation Internationale de Football Association to use when deciding what it wanted to be doing in 2018 and 2022. Instead, the international governing body for soccer chose Russia and Qatar for the World Cup – a decision that grates on sensibilities like a stadium full of vuvuzelas.

The decision announced last week was quickly denounced by the Justin Campaign, an organization fighting homophobia in soccer founded in memory of Fashanu, the only elite men's professional soccer player to have come out. He endured harassment as a player before committing suicide in 1998.

"Both of these countries have extremely poor records on the issue of LGBT rights," the campaign wrote on its website. "Only last year, the mayor of Moscow deemed a gay pride march in the capital as 'satanic,' while participants in the march, including Peter Tatchell, were arrested. In Qatar, homosexuality is still illegal with both lashes and imprisonment often the punishment."

No sooner were the bid awards announced than British media outlets cried foul and charged corruption. The New York Times reported that Jerome Valcke, FIFA general secretary, "was dismissive of fresh allegations from a former employee of the Qatar bid committee, that deals of $1.5 million were agreed with two members of the FIFA executive committee, and that Qatar had discussed paying $78.4 million to the financially strapped Argentine soccer federation. The wailing and gnashing remains strongest in England. Its bid was humiliated. FIFA's own technical inspection group had described it as among the most complete, yet it received just two votes – one from England's own executive committee member."

Qatar will be building a world-class infrastructure suitable to host the 2022 World Cup: about $100 billion worth of train stations, hotels, and highways. News that Qatar, which has one of the world's largest oil reserves, had won the bid sent the stock index of the Qatar Exchange rocketing up 7 percent.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia was breaching the European Convention on Human Rights when it banned Pride parades in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Marchers in those years were arrested by police or beaten by onlookers.

By contrast, same-sex unions are legal in both South Africa, which hosted this year's World Cup; and Brazil, which will host in 2014.

"Despite their apparent commitment to humanitarian values and the promotion of global solidarity through football," the Justin Campaign said, "FIFA is sending out a message loud and clear that the rights of the global LGBT community do not even register on their agenda. This institutional indifference to the rights of LGBT people is symptomatic of the challenge facing all of us who are fighting against homophobia in football and it is a stark and sad reminder of just how much work we still need to do."

The beer-guzzling rowdies without which the World Cup would not be the World Cup is also severely restricted in Qatar, controlled through a monopoly, and drinking in public is a crime.

Qatar ranks as one of the wealthiest nation's in the world, but apparently all the money to go around isn't enough to pay folks a decent wage: the country's wealthy have a dark history of importing foreign workers on deceptive contracts to dire working circumstance and the sex trafficking is surely to get a boost when the world comes calling.

Maybe the global spotlight and the political activism it will engender will call attention to the human rights violations and help motivate change. But don't bet on it. In the meantime, for your World Cup preview amusement, check out www.qatarsuck.com.

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