On the same day that Gianni Infantino said that FIFA's role is "not to interfere in geopolitics," they removed a Qatari ref on the United Arab Emirates' request, citing the 'geopolitical situation.'
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FIFA has always tried to have their cake and eat it too. Usually, that goes for their claims that they're eradicating corruption, while simultaneously fostering an environment that breeds total corruption. But today, they've applied that mantra to politics after removing a Qatari referee from a United Arab Emirates match on the same day that FIFA president Gianni Infantino said (per Reuters) that FIFA should "not interfere in geopolitics."
According to the Associated Press, here's FIFA's rationale for removing the referee: that the decision was due to the "geopolitical situation" surrounding Qatar. Huh. So they shouldn't interfere with geopolitics, but they made a decision based on a "geopolitical situation." Huh.
FIFA has received a tremendous amount of heat for their decision to persist with Qatar as a host nation for the World Cup in 2022. The reasons behind this are seemingly endless: from multi-million dollar bribery scandals to derailing the ebb and flow of global soccer to Qatar's use of slavery to outrageous expenses to projected emissions of greenhouse gasses—the list goes on and on. But recently, FIFA has felt the pressures of political tensions—specifically surrounding the Gulf diplomatic crisis—and obliged the UAE's request to remove a Qatari referee from their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Thailand today.
In the past week, Qatar's neighboring nations of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE have essentially blacklisted Qatar from all diplomatic relations, creating a land, sea, and air blockade on all goods and travel, ejecting diplomats, and Qatari citizens from their countries. Those nations claim that Qatar is destabilizing the region with its support of terrorist organizations. Qatar, on the other hand, vehemently denies its involvement with funding terror.
Meanwhile, FIFA is left with piecing together a rationale for their continued support of Qatar as a host nation. So far, Gianni Infantino is coming up pretty dry:
"The essential role of FIFA, as I understand it, is to deal with football and not to interfere in geopolitics," Infantino said today, according to Reuters, later adding, "We are indeed facing a diplomatic crisis."
Infantino then laid out his game plan for how to deal with the definitely-still-happening World Cup in Qatar:
"But on the other hand, I am confident that the region will return to a normalized situation. The World Cup is in 2022. In five years.
Obviously, if football can make a small contribution, in any way, to an improvement, I will not hesitate to offer my help."
So his plan is just to sit and wait. And maybe make a small effort to do... something. Cool.
What FIFA and Infantino seem to be missing here is that even the act of choosing a host nation in the first place is an inherently political act. They've made their bed—and poorly at that. So if they have five years until they have to sleep in it, maybe they should just change beds?