The people who scream that sports should be an escape are usually the ones most in need of a reminder about empathy, equality, a natural disaster, or an ongoing war. Sports can be a great distraction for those who actually need it.
“So-and-so would’ve wanted me to play” is a sentiment often shared by athletes dealing with a tragedy. That’s why Mississippi State is still going to its bowl game after the shocking passing of Mike Leach. It shows remarkable courage, and really is what Tom Rinaldi thinks sports are all about.
On the flip side of the spectrum, there’s FIFA. The final of the biggest soccer tournament in the world, if not sports, takes place Sunday, and this would be a perfect time to take advantage of that platform to boost a cause.
At least Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky thought so. However, his request to address the world at the event — which was allowed at the Grammys and Cannes — was denied by FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino. If everything surrounding this World Cup wasn’t a PR disaster, and FIFA wasn’t FIFA, this would be surprising.
Infantino’s predictably tone-deaf reasonings were so in line with what we’ve come to expect from the bumbling organization that, while dumbfounding, they don’t elicit an appropriate response.
Supporters “just want to spend 90 minutes or 100 minutes or 120 minutes with penalties without having to think about anything else,” Infantino said.
“We have to give these people a moment in time where they can forget their problems and enjoy football. Outside of the match everybody can express their views and opinions.”
It’s hard to put an exact date on when Russia’s invasion of a sovereign country got pushed to the bottom of the home page. Yet, it has happened and that’s because people spend their mornings watching dog videos on TikTok rather than reading about global conflicts.
Allowing Zelensky a brief minute to remind viewers about Russia turning his country into a hellscape and inflicting too many war crimes to count on Ukrainians is the very least WC organizers could do.
As a baseline, disavowing war should be acceptable rhetoric across the planet, especially in the Middle East. If FIFA and Qatar are going to be assholes about armbands supporting the LGBTQ community, they can at least admit that unnecessary violence is bad.
Nobody is going to dwell on the gesture because France and Argentina will be sprinting down each others’ throats for an hour and a half, maybe more. By the end of the match and trophy ceremony, Zelensky’s plea will seem like it happened last week.
The people who need a break from reality are the ones getting shelled by Russian missiles, not Larry from Colorado Springs who thought god was going to overturn the election in Donald Trump’s favor.
Political statements on sports’ world stage go back a long time. Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’ raised fists were over 50 years ago. Iran players protested their own government, refusing to sing the national anthem before their opening match at this very tournament.
If FIFA is so concerned about escapism through soccer, they should’ve awarded the cup to a country that didn’t have to bring in migrant workers — that they treated as disposable — to build infrastructure. The final is being held in a locale that looks like the early stages of a SimCity.
Has IT not gotten around to setting up the video conferencing yet? Is that what’s preventing Zelensky from Zooming in from his bunker? That’s at least a better excuse than the one FIFA gave.