The football World Cup has begun and, like any major international sporting event, it is not restricted to pitches and goals. In the most recent Olympic Games, both summer and winter, we brought here in our international policy space some issues that connected the games to the international scenario. The World Cup of 2022, in its first days in Qatar, already provided two moments that deserve a look.
The first of them was the opening ceremony . Not the ceremony itself, in its artistic part, which many may consider to be modest, with some brief interesting moments, but the squad of foreign dignitaries present. Attention was drawn to the small number of heads of government and state present, only eleven of them, in addition to the hosts from Qatar and the UN secretary general, António Guterres.
Of these eleven, only three were from non-Muslim countries. George Weah, Macky Sall and Paul Kagame, presidents of Liberia, Senegal and Rwanda, respectively. As a curiosity, Weah is a former best soccer player in the world, elected in 1995, and one of his sons is in the tournament, defending the US national team. The presence of Sall and Kagame can also be explained by the fact that they are, respectively, the current secretaries-general of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
Meeting between Turkey and Egypt
All other major officials present were from either Middle Eastern or North African countries. In other words, if Qatar intended to make the opening of the tournament an event that brought together a large number of foreign leaders, it failed. Still, a curious and noteworthy moment occurred. We had the first meeting between the presidents of Turkey and Egypt, Recep Erdogan and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, since 2013.
This was the year of military coup, led by al-Sisi, which overthrew then-president Mohamed Morsi, the only president in Egyptian history elected in a democratic and transparent manner. Morsi was from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement considered terrorist by the Egyptian military. Since the 1952 revolution, the Egyptian military has considered the Muslim Brotherhood the greatest internal threat to the republican, secular and developmentalist model of the country.
On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood has considerable presence and support in Erdogan’s Turkey. For the same reason that Turkey and Egypt are on opposite sides in relation to Hamas, a group whose origins go back to the Muslim Brotherhood. Several Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood sought refuge in Turkey. In recent months, the Turkish government has signaled its desire to reconnect with several countries in the region and, apparently, Egypt is one of them. in the third game of the tournament, between England and Iran. At the opening ceremony of the match, Iranian athletes were silent and did not sing their national anthem. The decision was taken by the players and, in a press conference, captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh stated that the team was in solidarity with the protesters and that “we have to accept that conditions in our country are not good and our people are not happy.”.
Protests in Iran
Is a reference to widespread protests across the country whose trigger was the death of young Mahsa Amini, or Jina Amini, in her Kurdish name, in custody of the country’s customs police. In the last two months, at least 15,000 people have been arrested and a few hundred have died, with the real numbers being difficult to determine at this time, with a clash of narratives between official discourse and numbers from opposition groups.
The players’ act is a heavy blow against the Iranian government, which maintains its rhetoric that the protests are inflamed and orchestrated by foreign interests, specifically the US and Israel. That interest drives the actions of States is a fact, and that these two countries have an interest in the weakening of the current Iranian republic is another fact, hence not granting that domestic and legitimate agendas of the Iranian population are legitimate is a mistake of the country’s government .
When players signal, voluntarily and on the soil of an allied country in the region, Qatar, support for the protests, they further weaken the rhetoric of the Iranian government. Or were all athletes co-opted by the US, Israel or whoever? There is also another element in the players’ decision, which is the fact that the athletes were publicly criticized for their meeting with President Ebrahim Raisi, before the trip to Qatar.
That is, they were already criticized for allegedly not supporting the protests and supposedly referenduming the Iranian government. The team’s coach, Portuguese Carlos Queiroz, said in an interview that people “can’t even imagine what these men have been living behind closed doors in recent days”, a reference to pressure, possibly both from the government and from critics, regarding the conduct of the team.
Regardless of the protests, the Iranian team lost 6-2 to the British. Upcoming games and events may spark other moments related to global news. For example, the same Iran will face the USA on the next day 29. Until then, the world will certainly continue to revolve around the usual tensions and unknowns, regardless of who wins between Costa Rica and Japan.