You know an organization is an all-time abomination when someone asks if you’ve seen the documentary about what an obscenely corrupt human rights nightmare they are and your first response is to ask, “Which one?”
That is why FIFA is the no-doubt-about-it runaway winner of the Outsports 2022 Asshole of the Year. They are the Pelé of douchebags, the Messi of jagoffs, and the David Beckham’s abs of assholes.
In 2010 when former former president Sepp Blatter opened an envelope and announced that the 2022 World Cup would be awarded to Qatar, it showed the rest of the world that FIFA considered the very concept of LGBTQ rights irrelevant in the face of an overwhelming avalanche of money.
Almost immediately, FIFA officials began rhetorically stepping on a never-ending series of rakes in an attempt to justify their decision, instead of just wriggling their fingers in the universal symbol for “We got PAID.”
When Blatter was asked by the media what he would say to gay soccer fans who wanted to travel to Qatar for the World Cup, he flippantly replied, “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”
Thus letting all of us know that FIFA’s best solution to combat state-sanctioned homophobia and human rights abuses in a World Cup host country was voluntary blue balls. Over a decade later, they really haven’t come up with a better answer.
In fact, in October, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly implied that LGBTQ fans should refrain from public displays of affection to “be respectful of the host nation.” In doing so, he revealed that in the 12 years since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, few in a position of authority could even be bothered to come up with a new talking point.
As any fan with a functioning cerebrum could’ve predicted that when it came to LGBTQ and human rights, the 2022 World Cup was an unmitigated disaster. Even amidst the pageantry of crowning a new world champion, that should continue to be the biggest story of this tournament.
Although there were public promises that LGBTQ fans would be welcome at the World Cup, there were also several ominous signs during the months leading up to kickoff.
For example, Qatari LGBTQ activist Nasser Mohammad wrote a piece revealing the depths of the government’s “absolute systemic effort to make [LGBTQ people] invisible in Qatari culture” including “state-sponsored conversion therapy practices” and “lashing and prison sentences.”
A leading security official threatened to confiscate all Pride banners in order to supposedly “protect” LGBTQ fans from those around them.
Qatar’s World Cup ambassador called homosexuality a “disease of the mind” and asserted that he doesn’t want children to learn “something that is not good.”
As these incidents piled up and human rights activists continued to sound alarms about the host nation, what was FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s response? An astonishingly tone- deaf word salad that sounded like what would happen if you fed an Up With People song through Google translate:
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker…I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated [against], to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child, I was bullied—because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian, so imagine.”
What. The. Hell? The LGBTQ Qataris on the run from police raids must have been comforted to know that Infantino felt their pain because someone once called him Opie. Ordinarily, that might have been FIFA’s low point. But once the matches got underway, things somehow got worse.
On the pitch, in an attempt to show support for a spirit of general inclusiveness during the tournament, captains from eight European nations vowed to wear a special “OneLove” armband featuring rainbowish colors. It wasn’t even a Pride rainbow.
But just before the tournament got underway, FIFA announced that any captain wearing the OneLove armband would be given a Yellow Card. Meaning that during the 2022 World Cup, tolerance was now a penalty.
FIFA even forbade Belgium from wearing its away kit because it contained the word “LOVE.” That’s the kind of thing an organization does when it’s less concerned with running the biggest sports tournament on the planet than it is with getting rid of those meddling Care Bears.
But as regular fans and visiting journalists like the late Grant Wahl discovered, Qatari security had declared war on all rainbows while FIFA continued to look the other way. They confiscated every banner they could find and harassed any fan or media member who tried to enter with Pride colors. Wahl, whose brother is gay, later died of an aortic aneurysm while covering the tournament.
While the soccer on the pitch was exciting, FIFA’s sycophantic efforts to help Qatar attempt to sportswash its homophobia and catastrophic human rights record were an embarrassment. When the history of the 2022 World Cup is written, FIFA will be remembered for standing against the LGBTQ community at every step along the way — in a nation where LGBTQ Qataris desperately needed any ally they could find.
For that (along with everything else), FIFA and its officials are the Assholes of the Year. Which would be a great title for a new documentary.
Previous Outsports Asshole of the Year winners:
2020: World Rugby
2019: IAAF aka World Athletics
2017: Fans who chant gay slurs
2014: Tony Dungy