Ethics and culture in the Soccer World Cup

The philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus wrote “Everything I know about the morality of men I have learned from football.” Indeed, many things of moral relevance can be learned from soccer. I mention some that seem very remarkable to me: in soccer you learn the value of cooperation, the dignity of human effort even in defeat, the experience of freedom and creativity and how these are compatible with the observance of the rules ( Contrary to what a certain “romanticism of spontaneity”, today too widespread, supposes), the spiritualization of the corporeal, the long reach of the organization and persistence even to overcome talent (ask the disciplined players of Saudi Arabia who beat the virtuous Argentina) and a long etcetera.

I clarify that I have said that all these and other moral teachings can be derived from soccer. Soccer itself, not FIFA. The lack of integrity and moral consistency of the International Federation of Association Football has been, in this World Cup in Qatar 2022, particularly exposed. I am not only referring to the accusations of corruption in the process to choose Qatar as the venue for the championship; that election is already a long way off (it was held in 2010: Russia was designated for 2018 and Qatar for this year at the same time) and it must be recognized that it was probably not a more corrupt process than previous and similar ones and that it only made more noise because the United States was defeated, precisely the country where the investigations were carried out and published. More irritating is the incongruity in turn: FIFA threatens to punish Mexico for the “homophobic shouts” of its fans (without considering that it is the use of words that determines their meaning and in Mexico the use of that name in particular is very polysemic, which does not justify offenders but does require a more careful approach to the phenomenon). And this FIFA, inquisitive and apparently “tolerant” to a punitive degree (as paradoxical as that is), is the same FIFA that appointed two nations (Russia and now the Qatari state) to host the World Cup whose position on the same issue it is well known and irreducible.

Determining what would be correct in these designations of venues for the World Cup (or, as the case may be, for the Olympic Games) is very complex: it would lead us to an arduous philosophical discussion where concepts such as the universality of human rights, self-determination, and self-determination would appear. of peoples, multiculturalism and tolerance, all notions with a “good reputation” today but which frequently come into conflict when it comes to applying them with a minimum of rational consistency. Pretending to do so in this collaboration would be disproportionate.

What should be noted at the moment is that FIFA does not even agree with itself, and that this has now been so evident that there is a risk that some nations may even consider disaffiliating. This is in addition to other internal disputes —motivated by more pedestrian economic interests— such as the recent one over the European Super League. Probably in the coming years we will see a rearrangement of the world soccer scene. This should be taken into account, because soccer has a cultural, political and (obviously) economic weight that is not insignificant: Qatar has invested record sums for a reason (it is the most expensive event in history) in order to present itself as a country ” bridge” between the Western world and the Arab world.

However, I do not share the judgment of those who see this World Cup as hopelessly decadent. It is true that the change of dates, the location in a country that is not so traditionally a soccer fan, the marginal debates have generated a somewhat deflated start, but all this can be traced with good soccer, with the nostalgia of seeing the last great stage for Messi and for Cristiano, with the addition —of human value, too, and serious cultural resonances— of the encounter between cultures around a ball. Surprises will also make our enthusiasm grow: because in football nothing is written and, as Eduardo Galeano said, sometimes the small fish eats the big one, and that also opens up spaces for hope.

* Director of the Humanities area at the Universidad Panamericana, Mexico campus, and professor-researcher of ethics, anthropology and hermeneutics. Member of the National System of Researchers, level 1. He has participated in various television programs and outreach publications with comments on the relationship between soccer and culture.

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Ethics and culture in the Soccer World Cup