More than 3.5 billion people watched the 2018 World Cup in Russia. FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, thinks that number could grow to 5 billion for 2022. And if you asked all of them how they feel about this year’s tournament and the circumstances surrounding it, you could get 5 billion answers.
Opinions about the World Cup in Qatar, which kicked off Sunday, largely depend on your interest in soccer (or football) and how closely you follow the news. Here’s the short version: The World Cup, in general, is the biggest sporting event in the world. This year’s World Cup, in particular, is inarguably the most controversial in the event’s history.
For starters, all of the previous 21 tournaments dating back to 1930 were held in summer. Shortly after FIFA awarded Qatar hosting duties, the country announced plans to combat a heat index that can exceed 130°F in the summer by blocking out the sun.
Ultimately, FIFA moved the tournament to a cooler place on the calendar. In the years since that decision, Qatar has received near-constant heat as various reputable sources reported on:
- The bribery required for Qatar to win the bid for this year’s tournament.
- The 6,500 migrant workers who died (likely an underestimate) while building the infrastructure required for the event.
- The general abuse, discrimination and outright theft workers experienced.
Many soccer fans (myself included) find themselves torn between watching the sport they love and supporting an event with a dubious foundation. Some have pledged to boycott the tournament while others plan to just enjoy the soccer.
In the spirit of finding a middle ground, here are four things you can do if you have a generally icky feeling about this year’s tournament followed by four places around the area where you can enjoy the matches and get into spirited debates about teams, players and human rights.
What you can do
1. Hashtag activism. A coalition of human-rights organizations called for FIFA “to provide remedy for abuse of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar” by setting aside $440 million — equivalent to the total prize money given to participating countries. As of this writing, FIFA hasn’t officially responded, so the groups have encouraged people adding #PayUpFIFA to posts about the tournament as a way of calling attention to the issue.
2. Read, watch, listen. Even for fairly tangled situations like this, there are relatively easy ways to learn more. The articles linked earlier will provide some foundational information, Netflix just released a thoroughly sourced documentary on FIFA’s controversial recent history, and a recent episode of The Athletic Football Podcast might help you get up to speed.
3. Sign a petition. Dr. Nas Mohamed, one of very few publicly out Qataris, started this petition in response to the country’s history with LGBTQ+ individuals, while Freedom United posted one regarding migrant workers.
4. Donate to an organization. The groups that investigated and brought attention to many of the issues noted earlier, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, use charitable donations to fund their work. You can also search for local organizations in your area that address human-rights and LGBTQ+ issues.
Where you can go
1. The Highbury. This place is a treasure in very large part because of owner Joe Katz. He gets soccer fans because he is one (up the Palace!). His bar opens early — 4 a.m. for some World Cup matches, but no alcohol ’til 6 a.m. — his booming voice lets everyone know which matches are on which TV, and there’s even free food floating around from time to time.
2. Three Lions Pub. Having never been to England, I can’t speak to what a proper English bar looks like. But I imagine this must be close. You can enjoy a morning match along with a satisfying breakfast (The Tannery Row is an excellent choice). And if you really want to blow things out, show up on Black Friday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the block party.
3. Moran’s Pub. James Moran is good people. I ran into him a few times at the Highbury prior to him taking over his family’s bar in South Milwaukee, and it was clear then he was born to run the place. Like his dad, he came over from Birmingham and started the nonprofit Milwaukee Soccer Development Group before buying the pub. Its atmosphere shares the outgoing, convivial nature of its owner, making it an excellent choice for match-watching.
4. Nomad World Pub. For the last several tournaments, the Brady Street bar turned its outdoor area into a fan zone where supporters could bask in the sun and the soccer simultaneously. You’ll still be able to do the soccer part of that this time around, and owner Mike Eitel has a few tricks up his sleeve to combat the cold. There’s even an online booking system if you want to guarantee yourself a table for a particular match.
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