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Lessons From the World Cup

It has often been said that there are two universal languages: music, and sports.

Indeed, the 2022 Qatar World Cup has shown that futbol is not only a global sport but a global language. As a fan, I give thanks to Europe for introducing futbol to the world, although our European friends might now be regretting the parity that globalization has brought to the sport.

Futbol, the most popular sport on the planet, brings so much pleasure and so much promise. It is the language of fairness on the pitch and more importantly a bridge that brings hope of progress.

There is so much I will remember about these games but one image that will stay with me forever – is that of the U.S. players comforting the Iranian players after a tough loss. With arms wrapped around their shoulders, the U.S. players sent a message to all – “on the pitch we are one.” Our government leaders would be wise to keep that image in mind before casting the next stone.

Another lesson for future World Cup hosts, whatever societal blemishes exist in your country they will be magnified. Any injustice, be it human rights, crime, freedom of the press, income inequality, or women’s rights, will be highlighted. Regardless of the country’s standards or traditions, activists and the media will hammer at your shortcomings. Some would say that this is the only way to force change, but, please remember, casting criticisms without recognizing progress may result in the opposite. I realize that news is not intended to be diplomatic. Yet diplomacy, recognizing progress where due, can lead to greater improvement.

Even with significant cultural and religious differences, Qatar did make changes, which if sustained, should lead to other reforms.

To be fair, we must remember that one shoe does not fit all. When dealing with deep-seated cultural and religious beliefs, leadership must deal with multiple constituencies. Let’s be optimistic and hope that the changes we have witnessed will lead to a greater good.