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COLUMN: Cheering for the Canadian men’s soccer team, at a cost

The Canadian men’s soccer team are taking part in their first World Cup in 36 years
Canada fans cheer as the team arrives on the field to warm up ahead of Group F World Cup soccer action against Belgium at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

In September 1985, on my beautiful home island of Newfoundland, 13,000 passionate fans jumped out of their seats, celebrating a historic moment in Canadian sports history. Igor Vrbalic slotted home the winning goal at King George V Park in St. John’s, NL in a match against Honduras to send our nation to its first-ever World Cup. Both of my parents were there, and they remember the celebrations after the final whistle fondly.

The 1986 World Cup, held in Mexico, was not a success for Canada, but a huge step forward for the nation’s love of the beautiful game. Argentina went on to win the tournament in 1986, and soccer icon Diego Maradona was handed the Golden Ball award as the best player at the tournament.

Now, in 2022, Canada is back at the world’s tournament after a 36-year drought. For the first time in my life, I’ll get to hear our national anthem being played on the world stage. It’s a big moment for soccer in Canada, and as a lifelong soccer fan, I’ve been dreaming of it for a long time.

There’s no doubt that this is the beginning of the Canada men’s national soccer team’s golden generation. Talents like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David are paving the way for soccer programs across the country.

However, underneath the top layer of excitement for this world cup lies an ugly and deeply upsetting reality that each soccer fan needs to come to terms with while enjoying this tournament. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been muddied with controversy since it was announced that the Gulf country would be hosting the tournament in 2010.

In 2017, FIFA, the World Cup’s organizer and governing body, adopted a Human Rights Policy to promote the protection of rights, so how inclusive will this tournament be for players and fans?

The last time Canada was at a World Cup in 1986, sexual orientation was just added to the Ontario Human Rights Code as a prohibited ground for discrimination. In the following years, the rest of the country would follow suit. Since then, LGBTQ rights have come a long way in our country.

Now, at the 2022 World Cup, Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson is banned by FIFA from wearing an armband which promotes a message of LGBTQ inclusion because the tournament is being held in a nation where homosexuality is illegal.

Same-sex relationships are criminalized in Qatar and carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Whether or not we agree with the ethics behind the laws in foreign countries, shouldn’t the ‘world’s tournament’ be for everyone?

Women in Qatar also face discrimination. Laws make it so women must obtain permission from their ‘male guardian’ to marry, study, work and travel. Failure to do so can result in prison time.

The cost of this tournament is greater than the world has ever seen. Qatar has reportedly spent $229 billion on World Cup infrastructure, but even that astronomical dollar amount pales compared to the cost of human lives.

Although the exact number is difficult to quantify, last year the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar - many on construction projects for this World Cup - since 2011.

So, for all the kids-at-heart who have waited their entire lives for this moment, and all of the Canadian soccer fans that have waited 36 years for this, enjoy the rest of the tournament, and cheer on the Canadians, but don’t forget the cost of this tournament.

Josh Piercey is the Editor of the Revelstoke Review.

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