Sports fans across the globe generally share a single problem – they really can’t affect any change in the leagues or even their teams. Seattle Mariners fans may universally despise management for 10 straight years without making the playoffs, but they don’t have a way to remove the CEO. Some people may hate the way Roger Goodell runs his football mafia, but there’s not another league of gridiron superstars to support. As a fan, you take what you are given or find a new hobby.
But this isn’t necessarily the case in soccer. While it would take organization of historic proportions to get hardcore Mariners fans to build any kind of impactful protest, this organization already exists in soccer, in the form of Supporter Groups.
Supporter Groups, such as the Emerald City Supporters, can mobilize hundreds or even thousands of people. They often have a hierarchy and organizational structure that rivals a successful non-profit. They communicate among each other, have dialogue with team management, share best practices with each other and have followers who will act as directed.
No one was happy when Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup. It was an obvious result of international bribery, blackmail, payoffs and back room deals, executed with a level of precision that NBA COMMISSIONER David Stern WOULD ADMIRE. And throughout the predictable controversy that inevitably became reality (wait, playing soccer in 130 degree heat is a bad idea?), there wasn’t anything that was worth an international boycott.
And then we found out that 4,000 people will die in the next 8 years building the stadiums. We also learned that the “lucky” ones who survive are basically being enslaved in stifling, inhumane conditions.
The world soccer community (DID ALL THINK THAT?) went from thinking, “This Qatar World Cup is a bad idea that I have to live with,” to “Damn, I’ll be sitting in a seat someone died to build, so some rich guy could get paid.”
If the global soccer community cared enough, it *could* do something about this. It’s the one sport that could organize a global protest. Here’s what it would take.
1) Supporters Groups of local teams in national leagues such as MLS, Premier League, La Liga, etc… individually would have to agree to support the idea that killing and enslaving people is bad. It’s key that the protests come from the Club Supporters groups, not the national groups (like Sam’s Army) at first, because national teams would fear retribution from FIFA if their supporters organized anything. Plus, you don’t want it IT CAN’T look like the U.S. Supporters Groups are organizing a political protest against the Middle East. It has to be country-agnostic. But keep in mind, members of Club Supporters groups often also support their national teams.
2) Then, the supporters groups in each league could galvanize together with one representative force from each league. Arsenal and Tottenham fans hate each other so much when it comes to soccer, that is pretty powerful when they agree on anything.
3) If globally, members of Club Supporters groups agree to protest something like a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match, a week of friendlies or some other set of matches, it would make world news, and FIFA would have to take this seriously. Even FIFA didn’t want to take it seriously, brands that advertise with FIFA – McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Heineken, etc.. would have to take it seriously. Multinational companies do not want to be on the wrong end of a global protest. So even if the groups didn’t want to boycott the matches, just threatening to boycott the advertisers en masse would create a massive headache that would have to be dealt with.
We’re talking about people protesting the killing of others to build stadiums, not whether there should be instant replay or a ban on if we need to limit flopping. It would be kind of hard for FIFA to turn a blind eye and ear to a global protest on mass murder.
This is something that could happen. Three to four 3-4 years of protesting, led by the Supporters Groups, could cause change. There are plenty of countries with the infrastructure to prepare for a 2022 World Cup with 4-5 years of notice. The question is whether the Supporters Groups care enough to do it.