The first goal in a World Cup is intoxicating. It's a release of four years of anticipation. It's a sign that the biggest sporting event that has ever existed really started – cutting off the beautiful game on its biggest stage. When Yury Gazinsky scored the first goal from Russia against Saudi Arabia, the crowd broke out and he was swarmed by his teammates before he even started to celebrate properly.
This moment of joy was quickly followed by disbelief as the camera looked at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who laughed with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and shook hands as FIFA President Gianni Infantino interposed.
We love to think of events like the World Cup as transcendent. We want them to be places of escape from the real world problems, a space where people of other people can communicate and understand each other, where we can come together for the celebration.
The image of the three men intervened in the idealism of the World Cup. It has brought us back to world politics and the forces behind it.
In his own pre-match speech, Putin reiterated the sunny view that the World Cup could be a unifying force:
"We have been responsibly preparing for this wonderful event and doing our best for fans and athletes. We hope that they enjoy their stay in Russia, an open, hospitable and friendly country, and make new friends – people with whom they share the same values. " This idealistic view of the tournament is perfect for marketing and sports the increase in its range. Football is the game of the world, so the world has to feel welcome. But a lie is a lie no matter how many times we repeat it.
The same day that the World Cup began, Peter Tatchell, a gay British activist, was arrested and charged with violating a federal law banning protests near the Kremlin and during the World Cup. He protested peacefully against Putin's dealings with LGBTQ issues.
Just released from the Kitay-Gorod Police Station in Moscow. On 26 June appear in court for violating Federal Law 54 and Presidential Decree 202, which prohibit all protests near the Kremlin and during the World Cup. Glad to be in solidarity with Russian and Chechen LGBTs pic.twitter.com/c5FoDbHF90
– Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) June 14, 2018
A gay couple was also beaten and hospitalized started before the first game. Along with homophobia, Russia has a well-documented history of racism that has prompted players like English defender Danny Rose to tell his family that they can not participate in the tournament. Infantino has given judges the power to end a game for racist violence.
Already in March, the English and Icelandic football associations had announced that none of their officials in protest against a nerve attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia on English soil would go to Russia for football World Cup. The British royal family also announced that for the same reason they would not participate in the World Cup. Poland, Australia and Finland made similar announcements earlier this month.
The World Cup does not exist in a vacuum from the real world. Even if politics is not as clear as Putin and Salman shaking hands, teams can still be used as tools of propaganda. And the problems go beyond Russia.
The stadiums and other infrastructure for the Brazilian Football World Cup were created by the displacement of poor people. FIFA has made billions, while citizens of Brazil have protested against social inequality and prosperity. The same type of eviction took place in 2010 on behalf of the tournament with South Africa.
The big difference between the two previous tournaments and Russia is that the media around the world have made the news sensational by entering the tropics of poor and dangerous Black and Brown people. There was no attempt to investigate the causes of the nations' problems with poverty and violence, but only lazy stereotypes and coded racism.
The next tournament will take place in Qatar, where migrant labor is abused and exploited to build infrastructure. Meanwhile, in addition to Mexico and Canada, the US has been assigned the 2026 World Cup, while the current government separates the children of immigrants from their parents and places them in detention centers.
It is understandable when people want to enjoy something that is sacred from politics and suffering. The problem is that as long as the tournament exists in of this world, we can not pretend that the most idealistic vision of the World Cup is reality. In 2014, Supriya Nair wrote about the history of the World Cup, the related politics and the redeeming power of sport. The article ended with
"Even this tournament will produce little acts of justice that can lead to great collective optimism, but also its public is in court, and however we decide to act, one thing is clear – it is only for the footballers on the field for whom the outsiders can not exist, and when we hear what's going on in the walls of the big World Cup tent, we also have to hear what's going on outside. "
Us can not consider the World Cup as the happy entity presented by broadcasts and world leaders. But this idealism, the idea that the tournament is a celebration of life and its people, can be important. We do not have to be tempted to be passive so we can enjoy the game. What we need is to reconcile the beauty of sport with the world in which we live.
Football can not really be the beautiful game when it comes to life. There is no beauty in a tournament if it causes people to be expelled or arrested because they are poor and gay. The sport and its audience deserve better.
Changing the world through sports is a lot to ask, and there is no reason to think that things will ever be different. But it's something that is worth fighting for, as the game should be as inviting and pure as we pretend. The first day of this World Cup was another reminder that football does not exist outside the real world, and the worst we can do is ignore this truth.