Whoever pays puts on the cape: The political lessons of the World Cup
Created: 12/19/2022 1:39 p.m
By: Andreas Schmid
Lionel Messi celebrates World Cup triumph with a Qatari "Bischt".
Emir Al Thani had put it on his shoulders.
© Maximiliano Luna/telam/dpa
The World Cup was the most political in history.
However, what is political and what is not is largely decided by FIFA and Qatar themselves.
Lusail – After the final whistle of the World Cup final, the eyes of the world public were focused on one man: Lionel Messi.
Perhaps the most talented footballer in history has reached Olympus after more than 1000 competitive games.
Anyone who didn't see the final and only saw the front pages of the gazettes in the morning will have been surprised.
Messi held up the trophy wrapped in a black cape.
Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani had put the Arabic overcoat ("bisht") on him - and thus misused the most important moment in Messi's career for his own self-portrayal.
In the run-up to the tournament, Fifa called it the "best World Cup of all time".
In the end it was probably the most political final round.
A tournament with political messages, bans and a lot of fuss about flags.
Germany "world champion of double standards"?
Mouth-to-mouth gesture causes malice
At no tournament has there been so much discussion about the host before kick-off.
Small and very rich, Qatar has been criticized for human rights violations.
In a debate mainly in Western countries, there were even calls for a boycott.
The demands lost their vehemence when Economics Minister Robert Habeck made an energy deal with the emirate.
Even the ZDF attested Germany the title "world champion of double standards".
Germany nonetheless emerged as one of the strongest critics at the tournament.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) avoided traveling to the games of the German national team.
It is unclear whether he would have stayed away from a final with German participation.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who is close to Qatar, also used the award ceremony in the World Cup final to present himself as a hands-on politician.
Instead, Scholz sent Sports Minister Nancy Faeser to Qatar.
The SPD politician sat in the stands with a "One Love" bandage.
The political statement that Fifa banned in advance under threat of yellow cards.
The DFB, which had previously sounded cocky about accepting sanctions, cuddled in front of the world association.
In the first World Cup game, the German internationals then posed with their hands in front of their mouths.
An internally controversial sign against the restriction of freedom of expression, which was mocked in the Gulf region after Germany's departure.
The gesture was laughed at on Qatari television.
Other nations had also previously announced protests, but then quickly gave in.
Soccer is soccer and politics is politics, as the teams from France, England and the Netherlands said.
Statements that should satisfy Fifa.
The German national players in the first World Cup game against Japan.
Fifa and Qatar decide what is politically permitted and what is not
Fifa itself decides what is politically permitted and what is not. Certainly on the instructions of the World Cup hosts, which became clear in the dispute over the alcohol ban, which Qatar pushed through against the interests of Fifa and its brewery sponsor Budweiser.
And so the host dictated to the world association how to deal with flags.
As at the last European Championship, rainbow flags as a symbol of the LGBTQ movement became a political symbol.
Fifa now referred to the political neutrality enshrined in its statutes.
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With other flags, however, other standards prevailed.
You could see Palestinian flags in almost every stadium.
World Cup surprise Morocco even cheered on the field with flags of Palestine.
At the same time, there were reports of abuse against Israeli fans and journalists.
The Arab world positioned itself in front of the world public in the Middle East conflict.
Morocco's Abdelhamid Sabiri celebrates reaching the World Cup Quarterfinals with a Palestinian flag.
© Petr David Josek/AP/dpa
Political signs at the World Cup
The Iranian national team also knew how to use the limelight.
The team demonstratively refused to sing their own anthem in the first World Cup game.
A sign against the regime in Tehran, which is subject to major protests after the death of young woman Jina Mahsa Amini.
The state media canceled the broadcast, and the team was supposed to sing the anthem again in the next game.
Probably under pressure from the mullah regime.
There are also reports of repression against Iranian fans who demonstrated against Iranian politics in the stadium.
Finally, the Iranian game against the “arch enemy” USA was politically charged.
The US boys' social media account removed the symbols of the Islamic Revolution from the Iranian flag in its posts, but in the end everything remained quiet around the game.
The match between Serbia and Switzerland was also about politics after the final whistle.
Serbia felt provoked by Granit Xhaka.
The son of Albanian-Kosovar parents cheered in Ardon Jashari's jersey.
Jashari is also the name of a Kosovar independence fighter, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and considers it its own territory.
Previously, the Serbian association had to pay a fine because of a Kosovo-critical flag.
The flag featured the outline of Kosovo in Serbian colors and the message "Never Give Up".
With a view to the Ukraine war, Fifa meanwhile stayed completely out of it.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wanted to send a message of peace across the stadium screens before the World Cup final.
In it he said: “We Ukrainians strive for peace more than anything else.
We offer the world a peace formula.
We offer them because there are no champions in war.
There can also be no draw.” Fifa, which awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia, did not allow the speech.
Politics through sport: "All host countries use this as image advertising"
Overall, the 2022 World Cup was politically explosive.
That sport and politics can be separated is simply a misconception.
Politicians like to use the stage for profiling purposes, athletes advance to the "instrument for a political agenda".
The sports historian Wolfram Pyta told
with regard to the Olympic Games in Beijing: “Major sporting events have a transnational event character and therefore a wide range.
All host countries use this as image advertising.” Of course, this also applies to Qatar.
The emirate uses the sport as a so-called soft power tool.
The World Cup is the culmination of a long-term strategy to distract from abuses in their own country by hosting sporting events.
That seems to work.
The tournament, which was orchestrated with spectacular show-like images, went largely smoothly despite political interference.
The organization of the World Cup host worked and there were no major scandals.
Qatar has managed – especially in non-Western countries – to put itself in the limelight politically.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who now lives in Doha, was happy to play this game as the Emir's right arm.
From a financial point of view, the Mega World Cup was also a success for the world association.
Who pays, creates - and puts a cape on the world champion captain.