Football should always steer clear of politics, so the old dictum goes. However, are we seeing this stance change? How far is any adjustment a tacking to the current wind or does it represent a sea change brought about by the swell in social media?
Normally not questions for this Spurs blog but as our figurehead, Harry Kane, has suggested that he wants a say on the matter of human rights at the Qatar World Cup 2022, we now find that our course is heading in that direction.
Harry has also pointed out that our ship’s captain, Hugh Loris, our star navigator, Son Heung-Min and the pirate of Madrid, Gareth Bale are all national captains. He suggests that Spurs have the possibility of presenting a united and powerful front on this voyage of discovery into global politics.
There is an obvious sense in what Harry is saying, Spurs does possess an influence on deck. The real question for us is whether we can allow that football should not exist in social isolation. If we agree that football has become more than a Saturday afternoon sporting pastime, we then have to decide if our game should leverage political and social situations.
Should we try to protect our entertaining sport with some sort of ideal of purity or should we accept a moral responsibility to engage with a wider world?
Straight away we can see the first brontosaur in the bathroom; FIFA. The Qatar World Cup is the pinnacle of corruption that has plagued the governance of our global game for decades. Anyone who says different simply does not understand football. Therefore, the question of an ideal of purity is a level of hypocrisy that only the bureaucracy of the football world could conceive of, even though they don’t believe their own words as they speak them.
In our 21st century game, money and power politics has already taken our sport by the throat. When nation-states use wealth funds to buy football clubs, when billionaires who have plundered their country’s resources for their own personal gain own these special toys, we cannot find a dark corner to hide in and mumble about integrity.
We may think we have rights as football fans but the history of Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United, Derby County and Spurs, to name but a few, demonstrate that our clubs are the property of owners. If you have no shares then you own nothing. Any belief otherwise is just a mythology. Our football is part of the ocean of corporate capitalism and if you are looking for morality on that man-of-war, then you are deluded.
The concept of a purity of our sport, an integrity of purpose or any other higher moral value cannot be held forth as a credible position on any ethical map. FIFA have demonstrated that by awarding the premier football tournament to a country without a football history and a climate unsuitable for playing the sport in but with the ability to buy the competition with huge stacks of dollar bills.
All of the Middle Eastern Arab kingdoms have a bad history in respect of the way they treat migrant workers. To say that servants are seen as chattel is not far from the truth. To state that the life of a migrant worker is not truly valued is displayed in the accident and injury statistics but also in the way the victims are then treated. We all knew this before Blatter and Co trousered the cash.
This is a real problem for Harry and his heartfelt sense of moral justice. We don’t have to blame the lad. He is a footballer not a moral philosopher. However, just because you are going to go and play in a World Cup seeking glory and, let’s be honest, treasure chests, does not mean you can cleanse the soul of football by platforming human rights. Not unless you keep that stance up when in 2023 you collect a Balon D’Or or other baubles and trophies.
If our national captain opens this particular current within the football discussion, it can only be put away again as an act of hypocrisy. Once on the private jet leaving Qatar, any feeling that you have changed the situation of migrant workers in the Middle East will be little more than smug self-congratulation. Therefore, for it to be meaningful and sincere, the stance will have to be maintained.
That is never going to happen and we all know it. All this exercise amounts to is a very public washing of conscience. Harry and the other Spurs players should be dissuaded from adopting the approach he is suggesting. The voyage to Qatar is a pleasure cruise and not a suitable vehicle for serious objection.
If the lads want to do something, act in a meaningful way, then they should put themselves up as UNICEF ambassadors or aid charitable work on behalf of migrants. That is where the political voice is appropriate and meaningful gains can be seen over the horizon. As top world-class footballers, their weight in such places has real meaning in the long term. Dragging our corrupt football authorities and corporate clubs into some sort of moral branding crusade is as disastrous as it is pointless.
Let’s back Harry, but let’s navigate him in the right direction and let his undoubtedly good heart unite with a sensible course of action.