The World Cup comes to the Middle East for the first time in 2022. In doing so, FIFA took on a number of controversies, complaints and criticisms for the selection of Qatar. Accusations and instances of human rights violations and otherworldly counts of death to bring the tournament cast a grim shadow over the competition.

Unfortunately, this brings back memories of other instances of pain surrounding the World Cup.

In many ways, the FIFA World Cup mirrors a World War more than any other sports tournament. Competed by over 200 nations, the quadrennial event sheds unprecedented light upon international relations. Therefore, it behooves one to consider the notion that soccer is more than just a sport and far from becoming apolitical.

FIFA may attempt to separate soccer from international relations. Even then, the geopolitical influences upon the six confederations of the sport always find controversy. The 2022 World Cup is no different in that regard.

Turmoil of international relations in the 2022 World Cup

Historically, FIFA mandates suspensions when governments of affiliated countries intervene in the affairs of their soccer federations.

Earlier this year, foreign ministers condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an alarming breach of international legislation. The invasion led the soccer federations of Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden to refuse to play against Russia during their remaining qualification matches. FIFA reassured the world that it would consult with soccer’s governing bodies. Ultimately, FIFA made the decision to suspend Russia from play indefinitely on February 28, 2022.

While this is rare, banning countries is not new. The international governing body has a history of placing restrictions on national teams.

Controversies connected to the World Cup

National governments must cease intervening in the affairs of their respective soccer federations. Only in that way can suspended nations earn readmittance into FIFA.

For example, the global soccer governing body suspended South Africa for apartheid in the 1960s. In the 1990s, Yugoslavia was stripped of affiliation after they broke global codes of conduct with war crimes.

Leading up to USA 1994, the evolvement of Colombian soccer was financed by narcoterrorism. For example, in a group match against the USMNT, Colombian center-back Andrés Escobar conceded an own goal, ultimately resulting in Colombia’s elimination from the World Cup. Coincidentally, Andrés shared a familiar Latin surname with drug lord Pablo Escobar. Despite no relation to the kingpin, a bodyguard of the drug cartel murdered the defender after he returned to Medellín.

On June 18, 1994, in the same World Cup, ‘The Loughinisland Massacre‘ occurred in Northern Ireland after the Republic of Ireland upset Italy in their group match at Giants Stadium.

In the first half, midfielder Ray Houghton caught goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca sleeping as the ball soared over his head, giving The Boys in Green a 1-0 win over the Azzurri.

That night after the match, a Northern Ireland paramilitary group murdered six patrons of a pub in Loughinisland with assault weapons, leaving several civilians wounded. The group took credit for the attack against the Irish Republic, leaving a taint on their morale for the remainder of the tournament.

Recent issues

During Korea/Japan 2002, former Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno was the subject of global scrutiny due to his controversial officiating. Then, in September 2010, TSA officials caught Moreno smuggling heroin at the JFK International Airport in Queens.

Most recently, FIFA has suspended nations whose governments interfered with their respective soccer federations. For example, Kenya from CAF is ousted due to political intervention. Moreover, Pakistan from the AFC was readmitted after their suspension in 2021.

Spain 1982 & Mexico 1986

In the antebellum period of the Iran-Iraq war, news of the hostage crisis met revulsion around the globe. Due to the revolution, Iran’s soccer federation folded after qualifying for Argentina 1978.

Nevertheless, during years of cataclysmic battles, Iraq’s national team managed to qualify for Mexico 1986 amid internecine warfare. However, FIFA did not issue an edict to suspend Iraq’s affiliation during inveterate hostility.

Moreover, during the Argentine invasion of the Falklands in 1982, the war affected the sport by curtailing the careers of Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa – prominent players for Tottenham Hotspur. At the time, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also considered boycotting the 1982 World Cup.

The World Cup in the Middle East

As the global governing body of soccer continues to evolve its organization and expand its presence, Qatar 2022 is set to be the Middle East’s World Cup for the first time. This decisive moment in World Cup history aims to continue the rapprochement between nations in the region.

As FIFA attempts to make soccer apolitical, Qatar 2022 continues to teem with friction. Governments see the World Cup as an opportunity to use soccer as a front to appease international conflicts, with many of their federations disappointed in Qatar as hosts.

The World Cup sheds light upon international relations. As national teams and their respective governments get glorified and vilified both on and off the field, the world governing body of soccer intertwines itself as an integral part of geopolitics – especially since billions of dollars are at stake when nations bid to host the world’s most significant sports event.