Skip to content

Exploring the apathy behind this year’s FIFA World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is now well underway over in Qatar as the first round of group fixtures came to a conclusion last night. On Monday England got their campaign underway with a resounding 6-2 victory over Iran in Doha.

After a run of shambolic performances in major tournaments Gareth Southgate has managed to reconnect the English public with their national football team again with a run to the semi-finals of the last World Cup in Russia four years ago and coming agonisingly close to winning Euro 2020, only losing out by virtue of a heart-breaking penalty shootout defeat to Italy.

You would think a thumping win to start this year’s tournament, following on back-to-back tournaments of relative success for England and then taking into consideration Wales are attending their first World Cup since 1958 would have both nations gripped in World Cup fever. We all saw how the country stood still during the latter stages of England’s run to the European Championship final last year.

However, a number of venues in the city of Leeds are boycotting the tournament this year, The Key Club, The Mustard Pot and Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen will not be showing any football over the coming weeks due to the controversy surrounding the footballing showpiece.

This apathy is mirrored in other cities across England and Wales as both nations do not rank highly amongst the nations that are enthusiastic for the World Cup according to polling by TGM Research.

The countries with the least enthusiasm for the World Cup, according to polling

The polling suggests that 58.9% of Welsh adults are planning on watching the World Cup whilst England ranks at a slightly higher 65%.

Surprisingly, current champions France rank the lowest of the European nations with just 40.6% saying they plan on watching the tournament with Germany just ahead of them on 50.1%.

The two nations with the least enthusiasm for the tournament are Japan (28.2%) and The United States (30.7%)

And the countries with the most

On the other end of the scale and perhaps understandably, hosts Qatar are the most enthusiastic with a whopping 89.5% of Qataris saying they plan to tune in. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia rank at 85.3%. Brazil is second highest with 85.9%. The highest-ranking European nation is Portugal at 71.2%.

This begs the question of why there is so much apathy towards the tournament particularly in Europe.

Firstly, FIFA made the decision to shift the tournament to the months of November and December for the first time in its history due to the excessive heat in the Middle East over summer. As a result, the ‘traditional’ European Football schedule has been disrupted in order to accommodate the tournament. All the major European Leagues have taken a month’s pause. This may play a part in Europe’s lack of enthusiasm with many fans seeing their domestic sides having to stop playing.

In addition, the decision to hold the tournament in Qatar was a controversial one and the build-up to it has been dogged by allegations about the Gulf State’s treatment of migrant workers and attitudes towards the LGBT+ community.

Stephen Wignall is the chair of Marching Out Together, the LGBT+ supporters’ group of Leeds United FC and he explained how he feels about the ongoing tournament.

“As an out gay man I don’t feel included.

“This is probably the first World Cup in living memory that I am just not excited about.

“Usually for a World Cup I would be booking time off work when England play and making plans to watch the matches in the pub with my friends but there has been none of that this year.”

Foreign secretary James Cleverly recently come under fire for telling England or Wales fans travelling to Qatar to show “a little bit of flex and compromise” and to “respect the culture of your host nation”. Stephen was critical of these remarks as he said:

“It’s disappointing isn’t it because it is asking people not to be their true authentic selves.

“I don’t think his message was anyway helpful to anybody and he has made a short-sighted statement instead of using his position to drive change.”

Stephen Wignall of Marching Out Together says he feels excluded from the FIFA World Cup

CJ Joiner from Coventry is an avid England supporter and has attended every major tournament since Euro 2012. He also is involved in the running of the ‘Block 109’ England supporters club.

He is currently out in Qatar with his wife and son, and they plan on staying out there until England’s participation in the tournament has concluded. He says he is expecting a different experience to previous tournaments he has attended. “It’s going to be a little bit different isn’t it, the culture is going to be different.

“It’s going to be a new experience for a lot of people and there is probably going to be people, myself included who do things that you aren’t meant do over there.”

In his role with the Block 109 club, CJ is in dialogue with the FA a lot and he says that the organisation has covered all bases to help and advise England fans out in Qatar. “The FA put an email out advising fans what to do and what not to do, there was also a fans forum down at Wembley the other week for people who are going.”

“There was a lot of questions by all accounts, ranging from what plug sockets are used in Qatar to can I hold my wife or girlfriend’s hand walking down the street.

“From what I have heard people come away from that feeling satisfied and looking forward to it.”

CJ is a recognisable face amongst England fans and has made friends up and down the country in his years following the national side, he claims that he knows plenty of fellow fans who are not going to Qatar, but for a range of reasons which include the timing of the tournament and the cost.

“I know quite a few that are not going, for various reasons, my friend’s son cannot get November and December off work as he works in retail so that amount of time off work this close to Christmas is a non-starter, others through the sheer cost and then the others have just gone, no Qatar isn’t really for me.”

CJ Joiner, pictured at the previous World Cup in Russia in 2018 says the experience of attending this World Cup is going to be different.

Before the tournament commenced FIFA asked the nations involved to “focus on the football… not ideological or political battle that exists” and now that the action is underway the narrative is starting to shift to matters on the pitch. England as always have their large contingent of loyal supporters out in Qatar following their every move but back at home it feels different.

Houses aren’t decked in the St George’s Cross like they were in June and July of 2021, the supermarkets aren’t stocked to the brim with the usual paraphernalia you can buy during a World Cup and whilst watching the England match on a big screen in a packed beer garden on Monday afternoon was reminiscent of a normal World Cup, everyone looked in confusion when the heavens opened and the inevitable downpour of rain started.

It is impossible to separate the politics from this particular World Cup and it will always be shrouded in controversy even when it is all over in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, the fine line between acknowledging the issues and being able to enjoy the football is going to be at each individual’s discretion.

What do you think?