Arabic-style World Cup. How does one maintain at least a minimum semblance of conformity to Islam in sport?

Welcoming the Australia team to Qatar on 16 November 2022. photo by BERNADETT SZABO / Reuters / Forum

Qatari sport is keen to use mercenaries. Athletes from many countries and different nationalities do it all: they run on treadmills, kick, throw and bounce the ball. Some change citizenship and take on Muslim names to make good money.

It is not true that the World Cup in Qatar is a gross misunderstanding. There is no mistake in the location of the event. There is a self-interested consistency of FIFA: it doesn’t matter who we hold hands with, as long as they make us a profit.

And in this beautiful world, authoritarian regimes have the most money because their leaders have the most power – how they use it no longer concerns the ball dignitaries. Why? Well, because sport stays out of politics…

The calendar of global football spectacles is built on this hypocrisy. More often now than years ago, as all games cost more and more. Democratic countries are not keen on organising such events, as can be seen on the example of the Olympic Games.

Of course, there are reasons why outspoken or powdered dictators are so keen to accede to prestigious events. They want to gain greater international prominence. To improve their own image, often at the expense of their citizens, and at any cost.

Sports competitions lend themselves to this better than anything. They are of interest to billions of people, which guarantees worldwide publicity. They are a tool for friendly promotion, because sport itself has a positive connotation. Unlike political propaganda.

Vladimir Putin falls into this category of rulers. He, too, improved his image with sport for many years. Very successfully, until the state doping scandal, which deteriorated Russia’s profile. And with the war in Ukraine, Russia’s status is frozen, so now it resembles a mammoth frozen in ice.

Money is no object, and any means to an end are good. Not only good, but acceptable to sporting corporations such as FIFA. The World Cup in Russia and the World Cup in Qatar were arranged thanks to bribes. So what? The first one took place, the second one will take place and the media can be in full cry all they want.

Qatar is the smallest state in the Arabian Peninsula. Formally an emirate with an absolute monarchy. The sheikhs have money, so FIFA loves them. And they have been given a springboard to jump high. Only it won’t be a free flight. More of a cultural confrontation – Western and Muslim.

A fake Muslim

Qatar has a population of just under 3 million, but only 300,000 indigenous Qataris. It is not known how many of them do sport for the good of their health. It is not known whether physical exertion, at 45 degrees Celsius plus, is good for anyone’s health. It is only known that they have a few competitive sports there.

Nine to be precise: futsal, athletics, handball, volleyball, water polo, tennis, wrestling, rugby, and football. They field national teams at world events and run league competitions. In both cases, they mainly use mercenaries.

Athletes from many countries and different nationalities do it all: they run on treadmills, kick, throw and bounce the ball. Some change citizenship and take on Muslim names to make good money. Kenyans often do this, but there are sometimes problems.

Kenyan Sephen Cherono has undergone these procedures. He formally became a Qatari with the new name Saif Saaeed Shaheen. He was a gifted athlete, so he improved the world record in the obstacle run. On one occasion, after another victory, he made the sign of the cross on his chest.

Qatari activists reacted very nervously. The sign of the cross does not indicate a follower of Islam. But that is not all. Speaking to reporters, the Kenyan forgot his new name. He introduced himself as Cherono, which his employers considered a scandal.

You can change your nationality, you can change your name, but it is difficult to break away from the faith instilled from birth. It is easy to convert an athlete to represent Qatar, more difficult to convert an athlete to be a Muslim or even a fake Muslim. Sport is supposed to be a free and open space for everyone. Its essence is equality of opportunity. For these reasons, religious fundamentalism can sometimes be a problem.

Cloaked swimmers

Consistent with the principles of the Muslim faith is the acceptance of personal participation in sport, but cheering is frowned upon. And since this is the case, big events are not welcome either. Likewise, Islam does not condone any signs of idol or club worship.

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By Marek Jóźwik

Translated by jz