FIFA President Gianni Infantino was spot on when he slammed Western countries of "hypocrisy" for trying to give "moral lessons" to other nations.
A Swiss Italian, Infantino said on Saturday that "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 people".
He was responding to the criticism by Western media about human rights in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, such as the treatment of migrant workers and the LGBT community.
FIFA warned several European teams that their captains would face yellow cards if they wear the OneLove armbands in a bid to raise LGBT awareness during the matches.
French President Emmanuel Macron pointed out last week that sport should not be politicized, referring to his plan to go to Qatar if the French national team, the defending champion, reaches the semifinals.
However, France politicized sport when it called for Russia to be banned from the World Cup qualifying games days after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February.
When the International Olympic Committee then urged that Russia be banned from participating in international sports events, many international sports federations quickly followed suit. But IOC President Thomas Bach said last month that Russian athletes could be allowed back to compete at Olympic Games as long as they don’t support the war in Ukraine.
Punishing athletes for the actions of their governments will do nothing to help end the conflict. On the contrary, sports have the magic power of bringing different people together. Engaging more Russian athletes could contribute to finding a solution to the conflict.
The fact that people all over the world, regardless of their political and religious beliefs, are enjoying watching World Cup shows that sports transcend politics. People cheer teams and players they support and others for their good performances.
People have the right to express their concerns about human rights issues, but they have to pick the right time and right place, and those are not a sports event.
Certain sports such as snooker, golf and tennis even require spectators to remain silent. No one wants a soccer match to be spoiled by protesters shouting slogans.
When the World Cup kicked off on Sunday, BBC chose not to broadcast the opening ceremony and instead spent the time talking about human rights abuses in Qatar.
That reflects the hypocrisy Infantino pointed out.
The BBC did not boycott the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, which took place a month after Julian Assange was forced to seek asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London due to extradition concerns, or the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Utah in 2002, which was held months after the US invasion of Afghanistan.
In its 2021 report, the Amnesty International cited human concerns in France from racial profiling to migrants’ rights. The Human Rights Watch cited in its report the US human rights violations from racial injustice and the world’s highest criminal incarceration rates to women’s health rights and the rights of non-citizens.
Since they spent so much time nitpicking the alcohol ban during the World Cup matches, there will be plenty for Western media to point their fingers at these Olympic Games. But we all know they won’t.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.