Can Watching a Sports Event be Immoral?

The 2022 World Cup recently took place with great excitement and anticipation from fans across the world, all rooting for the victory of their home nations. As I looked at the stadiums filled with thousands of energetic fans and at bags of snacks plastered with the label “Official Snack of the World Cup”, I remembered that The World Cup involved a lot of suffering, too.

The methods employed by the various corporations to build the mega-sized stadiums, specifically the poor treatment of the migrant workers during the construction is really troubling. Migrant workers employed to work during the construction of the seven World Cup Stadiums resulted in the deaths and injuries of hundreds to possibly thousands of human beings. Not only were the construction sites hazardous for employees, many workers were reported to be extremely underpaid and abused by management, whether it be unsafe sleeping quarters or unpaid hours. With all this in mind, I felt conflicted while viewing a World Cup match, knowing the history behind the construction of the stadiums as well as the darker history of corruption in the nation of Qatar and the FIFA (Fédération internationale de football association) organization. Here’s where the moral question comes into play: should we fans purchase World Cup merchandise and watch World Cup matches knowing the recent events regarding the construction of the stadiums?

Spectatorship, or merely watching World Cup matches from the safety and comfort of your own home, is morally OK. Participation beyond passive spectatorship, however, is not OK because you may be unintentionally supporting the Government of Qatar and/or the FIFA organization. You do have an obligation to become knowledgeable on what FIFA, as an organization, has done, namely enabling companies to employ human beings to work in horrible, unsafe conditions and, in some cases, working themselves to death.

For example, purchasing a game ticket to attend a World Cup match live is not ethically acceptable because, in doing so, you will be watching the games in stadiums built by poorly paid migrant workers and, in a few cases, individuals who died during construction. Thus, paying for tickets will enrich corrupt individuals in Qatar and FIFA that benefited from their willful violations of human rights. Nor is air travel ethically acceptable since airlines that travel to certain nations for the World Cup are required to pay a cut of their profits to the host nation – Qatar – except for Qatar Airways, which is owned by the Qatari government and, therefore, profiting from the total cost of the plane ticket. In short, traveling to Qatar means providing financial support to the Qatar Government which is not ethical.

What about Merch: soccer jerseys, water bottles, headbands and other items? Purchasing soccer merchandise is ethically acceptable, but you, as the consumer, must make sure that you are not purchasing the merchandise from organizations and companies that support FIFA or the government of Qatar. Buying Merch from the national teams’ official website without the FIFA branding is acceptable, because the money that you spend then supports only the team that you want to win and gives them a certain level of independence from FIFA.

So in the end, although you may feel conflicted when watching World Cup matches, you alone should not bear the responsibility or guilt of the deaths and suffering of the workers of the stadiums, for your very own pair of sneakers or phone may have been assembled by extremely poor workers living in poverty in nations such as China and India. You are surrounded by products whose production was outsourced to facilities where workers are abused. Even our very own nation has its share of employers who regularly mistreat employees, especially those working in domestic, meat-packing, sewing and low-skill fields of work, in which the workers are paid minimum wage or less.

With this in mind, you do have an ethical obligation to educate yourself more about the history of corruption in the FIFA organization and its relation to the World Cup in Qatar. Through education on the topic, you will be better able to choose whether to act out and/or speak against the Qatari government or the FIFA Organization, or to do your part in boycotting the government of Qatar itself, and the corporations and organizations that sponsored the World Cup. Since the revelations and reports of the mistreatment of migrant workers, there have been many articles publicly denouncing the Qatari government and FIFA, showing how the public has not been entirely silent on this issue.

From now on, I advise you to relax and enjoy the World Cup matches, but remember to educate yourself and others around you about the atrocities and to avoid purchasing from corporations who sponsored the World Cup.

Note: The FIFA World Cup 2022 was backed by big brands like Visa, Qatar Airways, Vivo, Wanda Group, Hublot, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and many more companies. All of these companies are doing World Cup themed things through their products, for example Qatar Airways will stream the World Cup on their flights. Additionally they will hold limited-edition amenity kits, souvenir cushions, and soccer jersey-styled loungewear.

These companies might fund the FIFA World Cup 2022 with major amounts of money, but in return they are gaining advertising, promotional campaigns, and etc. The companies might sell items to FIFA but the most important thing is that they are gaining a bigger audience.

Alternatives: Support local business instead of big corporations and gain knowledge on the subject of where these companies money goes to. Ex: Know where McDonald’s sponsorship money goes to.