“Man is not the creature of circumstances,
Circumstances are the creatures of man.”
- Isaac Disraeli
It is often noted and widely accepted that human beings are, as a rule of thumb, incapable of changing their fate. Some people use it as a coping mechanism to deal with the sorrows inflicted on them in their daily lives, while most others use it as a defense mechanism to serve excuses as to why they could not accomplish their targets. Time and again, it has been shown that human beings are in general susceptible to propaganda and are more than likely to turn a blind eye to a booming crisis if a suitable enough circumstance can be created which can serve as a distraction. A similar story of sorts is currently unfolding in Russia where the FIFA World Cup is underway.
Football is a sport that has an immense international reach and is played by almost every country in the world. The sport’s governing body; Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has done an extremely commendable job of marketing 'The Beautiful Game' for years, all over the planet. The World Cup epitomises the seductive abilities of football; 32 countries play each other over the course of a month to decide who will be crowned as World Champions -- it is an honour that is bestowed to a chosen few and rightly so, but it begs the question, at what cost does it come?
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is notorious in the political circles for his nefarious policies. Just like a tiger on a hunt, his sights are only fixed on rubber-stamping his country’s credentials as the World dominator. When FIFA, an organisation almost as corrupt as any, announced that its greatest tournament would be held in Russia, humanitarians and fans across the planet raised their eyebrows as to what was the rationale behind the decision.
Here was a country that had a very flimsy economic structure, regularly shot down domestic aeroplanes, murdered journalists and refused to recognize civilian rights of its LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. Surely a celebration of the sport and of large, life deserved a better host. Surely it made no sense, right?
In the years leading up to the World Cup, FIFA itself has been rocked by scandals, ranging from rigged elections to bribery and fixing allegations. The last World Cup was organised under horrifying conditions as well: Brazilian labourers were overworked and many died during the construction phase of the stadiums while the government was widely criticised for holding a spectacle when its people were unable to get two square meals a day. In fact, the situation got so bad for FIFA that reigning president Sepp Blatter had to resign in 2015, following enquiries by the Swiss police. He was replaced by Gianni Infantino, but the former UEFA general secretary seems to be built of the same mould as Blatter.
Leading up to the kick-off on Thursday, numerous reports of Russia endangering political peace in the Middle East by bombing the civil-war ravaged countries of Syria and Israel have emerged repeatedly. Moreover, Putin’s dictator-like approach to international affairs, something that led him to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has repeatedly caused concern in international politics. This came mere months after Russia hosted another international event on the scales of the FIFA World Cup. It was the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
England players being cautious
Human right activists will also point to the fact that racism is wantonly spread throughout the country and it is likely to rear its ugly head during the tournament, sooner rather than later. The situation is so severe, in fact, that England international Danny Rose had explicitly asked his family not to travel to Russia in fear of their safety. Similarly, the English manager Gareth Southgate has also apparently informed his players that they should walk away from the pitch if some or any of them is at the receiving agent of any racial slurs.
Social time bombs waiting to explode
Each of the aforementioned issues is in itself a potential social time-bomb waiting to implode, but even they are nothing compared to the brutality that has been unleashed on the streets of Russia recently. In an effort to tidy up the streets of the 12 World Cup venues, local authorities have employed death squads to exterminate all stray dogs. Using poisoned and toxic food which causes slow and violent deaths to these fluffy but abandoned creatures, the Government has justified this step as an attempt to make the cities more media and visitor-friendly.
Despite repeated protests from Open Cage and other pet-care communities as well as intense social-media shaming, these killings have continued regularly. The perpetrators are well aware of the fact that the protests are localised only to specific groups with larger parts of the world having little or no idea of what is going on inside the highly media-monitored state.
However, not everyone is a silent victim. People like Peter Tatchell, a human rights activist have chosen the World Cup to demonstrate the repulsive and gloomy side of football’s greatest fiesta. Thatchell was beaten up by a goon in 2007 in front of the Moscow City Hall for no reason other than voicing his thoughts and has since opposed the Kremlin at every possible step. His demands include repeal of the “anti-gay” law, the release of all foreign journalists and proper trial of war criminals. Despite being continuously threatened by local goons, he has pledged to make the most while the international focus is zoomed on the country and ensure the fact that Russia upholds the European convention rights, which it signed a few years back.
As I had mentioned before, man is usually incapable of looking beyond the razzmatazz. He is more likely to accept that he is powerless in front of a challenging situation than stand up to change it. However, people like Thatchell prove exceptions exist. They dare to stand up against the wrong-doers and challenge the well-established hegemony. It is on their shoulders that the true significance of the sport, and by extension, life rests. Thus, the next time you tune into to watch a World Cup game, remember that it has come through the blood and sweat of many an innocent victim. With Qatar, a country almost as infamous as Russia when it comes to violating rights of dissidents, women and immigrants, set to organize the next Cup, it seems unlikely that FIFA will buckle up and take accountability for its actions.
Thus, it is up to us to restore balance and display empathy. As consumers, our attention span is generally short-lived, our focus is usually distracted and our thinking abilities are usually clouded and short-sighted, but for once, we must gather all our mental faculties and resist the propaganda at all costs. The Kremlin’s goal is simple, to tidy up the country’s image in front of the world by eliminating all opposition and presenting only that which is socially acceptable and applauded -- but underneath the surface lies a body of lies, deceit and intolerance. As responsible viewers, we must voice our thoughts and concerns and unequivocally lend our support to the likes of Thatchell at all times if we are to establish a better future and bring the perpetrators to justice.