The middle finger shown by Fifa World Cup hosts Qatar to Western countries and corporations offered a lesson to African states in how sovereignty of a country’s rich resources can expose even the most brutish of imperialists as cowards.
On Monday, a glaring irony formed the backdrop of England thumping Iran by six goals to two in the countries’ opening group stage game, which was preceded by a juxtaposition of brave versus meek during the singing of the national anthems.
The Iranian footballers decided not to sing their anthem in solidarity with months-long protests in their country after the September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after being arrested on allegations of not wearing a hijab.
The English footballers, meanwhile, had their captain Harry Kane told by the Football Association (FA), the country’s governing body, that he could not wear a rainbow-coloured armband — with the messaging “One Love” — in protest over Qatar’s laws criminalising homosexual love.
Fifa said before the tournament began that teams wearing the One Love bands would face yellow cards, leaving players one caution away from being sent off.
Responding to Fifa’s directive, the FA retreated meekly, saying: “We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.”
Coming from a country that lauds itself as a bastion of free speech, it was cowardly of the FA to instruct its players not to continue their campaign over a mere yellow card and the threat of suspension, especially after the British media also took a stand.
After all, more than 340 protesting Iranians have been killed since that country’s September uprising, according to the BBC.
Yet both the Iranian footballers and their supporters, who carried placards in the stands in support of their country’s women, decided to forge ahead with their protests at the World Cup, despite the apparent threat of death.
The truth of the matter is that Qatar — atrocious as its human rights record is — is a member of the powerful Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), a cartel of oil-rich countries that, essentially, governs the production and sale of black gold.
It is the reason Qatar, where alcohol is tightly controlled, was able to order Fifa not to sell United States beer company Budweiser products inside or near the stadium, resulting in a $47 million loss for the ale manufacturer.
Oil prices have soared in 2022 as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, disturbing supply-chain markets worldwide, causing high inflation.
Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, have to kiss the metaphorical ring of some of the world’s brutal tyrants, some of whom (allegedly) kill US citizens such as Jamal Khashoggi, while begging Opec countries to cut oil production and reduce prices.
Despite Biden and friends’ obsequiousness, Opec countries have ramped up production and kept prices high, showing that they won’t bow to the West.
In Africa, we have 30% of the world’s total mineral reserves, producing more than $400 billion a year in resource value, according to the United Nations.
Goodness knows the power we could wield as Africans over our colonial masters if our states had sovereign control over our rich resources.
Alas, that remains a dream. So I will stick to watching Qatar, dastardly as its social policies are, to show Africa’s colonialists of yore the middle finger.