The excitement surrounding the World Cup in Qatar has seen the plight of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ rights in the small Persian Gulf nation firmly thrust into the world spotlight.
For ESPN commentator and former World Cup star Shaka Hislop, the backlash is an important moment for the sport. “History offers those moments that we need to make the best of,” he said during an event hosted by MarketWatch on Wednesday. “Even though we have recognized the impact that the game can have, the changes that the game can have, this is a moment that we should take to realize that football represents everything.”
Controversy continues to swirl around the tournament. After FIFA slammed plans for a number of team captains to wear “One Love” armbands to promote LGBTQ+ rights, Germany’s side protested on Wednesday by covering their mouths with their hands during a team photo ahead of their game against Japan covered.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a vote,” said the German national team on Twitter with a photo of the protest. “We stand by our position,” it said.
See: The Qatar World Cup controversy means sponsors are walking a tightrope
Hislop is a former goalkeeper for Newcastle and West Ham in the English Premier League and represented Trinidad and Tobago in that country’s World Cup debut in 2006. He is also a founding member and Honorary President of the anti-racism organization Show Racism the Red Card.
The ESPN commentator highlighted what he called the “symbiotic nature” of anti-discrimination efforts, which spans race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. “All of these things are very closely linked and this could be the moment when we as a football-loving public, as a majority that believe in equality, realize how closely linked they are. And how we cannot demand an end to racism without also working just as diligently to end LGBTQ discrimination, end sexism, end Islamophobia.”
According to Jim Andrews, founder and CEO of A-Mark Partnership Strategies, which provides corporate sponsorship guidance, the Qatar World Cup controversy has also presented several challenges for sponsors.
“The sponsors are kind of caught between their love of the game, their desire to support the game, their desire to support the fans, but to do that they now have to coordinate with FIFA and the organizing committee in Qatar,” he said. That put her between a rock and a hard place.”
See: British band The Farm blocks McDonald’s from using a hit song in a Qatar World Cup commercial
“As a sponsor you can take several steps to say ‘we are here for the football’ and ‘we are here for the fans’ and ‘we disagree with decisions made by organizing committees and governing bodies’. but you’re still connected to them, you’re still giving them millions and millions of dollars,” he added. “So you’re going to face backlash — that’s the big question that all these brands are grappling with.”
FIFA’s list of partners includes US corporate titans Coca-Cola Co. KO,
and Visa Inc. V,
who are both involved in the Qatar event. McDonald’s Corp. mcd,
is just as committed as a World Cup sponsor as Anheuser-Busch InBev BUD,
As the official beer sponsor of the World Cup, AB InBev’s brand Budweiser took the spotlight after Qatar and FIFA abruptly moved to an in-stadium beer ban just 48 hours before the start of the tournament.
Andrews said he was surprised by the decision. “It is unprecedented that within 48 hours of the start of a tournament a major decision was made that affected so many fans and the sponsor,” he said.
Budweiser has been a World Cup partner since 1986 and has reportedly spent $75 million on its latest sponsorship deal. The company has announced it will give some of the beer it originally planned to sell in Qatar to the World Cup-winning country.
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Andrews believes many people overestimate the impact sponsors have on FIFA. “I think they don’t have the leverage that a lot of us think they have,” he said. “The broadcasters that pay more than the sponsors probably have more influence in that sense.”
According to the Associated Press, FIFA raised a record $7.5 billion in revenue for the four-year Qatar World Cup-related commercial deals.
Fox Sports owned by Fox Corp. heard fox,
an affiliate of MarketWatch publisher Dow Jones’ parent company, News Corp NWS,
holds the US English language broadcast rights to the Qatar World Cup.