Tuesday’s Podcast: The Political History of the World Cup

It’s been a while since I’ve (a) posted here as opposed to Substack or (b) recorded a new podcast. So today I’m happy to announce the premiere of a three-episode run of The 252, the podcast about the history and politics of sports that I co-host with my Bethel colleagues Chris Moore and Sam Mulberry. This special miniseries is all about the FIFA World Cup, the quadrennial men’s soccer tournament that’s often billed as “the world’s biggest sporting event.”

Argentina both hosted and won the 1978 World Cup – Wikimedia

With FIFA predicting five billion TV viewers over the next few weeks, it’s hard to argue with that claim. But we’re also interested in the World Cup because this year’s choice of host, the Gulf state of Qatar, is especially controversial. Announced in 2010 at the same time as Russia 2018, to widespread allegations of corruption, Qatar 2022 has also raised concerns for the treatment of guest workers tasked with building entirely new stadiums in sometimes deadly conditions, and for the Arab nation’s poor record of political freedom and civil liberties — particularly when it comes to its LGBTQ citizens.

But FIFA president Gianni Infantino has stood by Qatar, criticizing Western nations for their “hypocrisy” on human rights and threatening to assess yellow cards to team captains who wear a pro-LGBTQ rainbow armband. Actually, the most notable protest in the first days of competition came from another Muslim-majority nation. The Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem before Monday’s game with England, in apparent protest of the Islamic republic’s treatment of women’s rights protestors.

With Chris out of town for a Model UN competition, Sam and I got things started with an episode that broke down the 2022 World Cup field and then surveyed the political history of the competition, including previous examples of host nations being criticized for their human rights records. Plus I previewed two notable matches coming up Friday and Saturday, and Sam recommended a unique podcast series that tells the history of the World Cup through the stories of 22 goals.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll check in on the progress of the tournament, but also talk to Chris Moore and fellow political scientist Andy Bramsen about the ways that the World Cup helps us to understand issues in international relations, comparative politics, and the relationship of religion to politics. Stay tuned on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other feeds.