A Troubled Cup for the Beautiful Game

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has kicked off in Qatar, and billions of fans worldwide are tuning in to the world’s most popular live event. And yet as in years past, the Qatar Cup is transpiring under the shadow of controversy.

Play Button Pause Button
0:00 0:00
  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Podcast Host and Producer
Episode Guests
  • Laurent Dubois
    Director for Academic Affairs of the Democracy Initiative, University of Virginia

Show Notes

As Qatar welcomes more than a million fans to its newly-constructed soccer stadia, billions more are watching avidly from every corner of the planet. Still, the 2022 Cup has long been overshadowed by accusations of corruption, exploited migrant labor, and the clash between Qatar’s domestic laws and Western democratic values. Qatar was willing to lay out more than $200 billion in order to burnish its image on the world stage, but it remains unclear whether they will get the desired return on their investment. In this episode, we ask what the World Cup’s soft power means when wielded by a tiny, authoritarian petrostate, and what lessons can be learned from the world’s irrepressible love of soccer.


From CFR


Eleanor Albert and Jonathan Grix, “The Mixed Record of Sports Diplomacy


Kali Robinson, “What Is the Kafala System?


Rebecca Turkington, “Going for the Goal: Will the 2019 World Cup Be a Game Changer for Women’s Soccer?


From Our Guest


The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer


Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France


Read More


Jules Boykoff and Dave Zirin, “The Tragic Absurdity of Qatar’s World Cup Sportswashing,” The Nation


Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Politics and Soccer in the EU,” Institute of World Politics


Simon Evans, “Soccer-Politics and Protest in Sport: Have FIFA’s Rules Changed?,” Reuters


James Montague and Tariq Panja, “Ahead of Qatar World Cup, a Gulf Feud Plays Out in the Shadows,” New York Times


Rory Smith, “Soccer Is Politics, Whether It Likes It or Not,” New York Times


Watch and Listen


The True Cost of the Qatar 2022 World Cup,” Business Insider


World Corrupt,” Crooked Media

The Qatar World Cup Explained,” Tifo Football

Arms Industries and Trade

The global arms trade is big business and the United States accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s weapons exports. Aside from the profit motivation, selling arms abroad can be an effective foreign policy tool, allowing the United States to exert influence over conflict and security worldwide without having to put boots on the ground. But are the risks worth the reward?


How does a war end? In this special episode, Why It Matters speaks with CFR President Richard Haass on the conflict in Ukraine. We ask if and how this war can come to a close and discuss what compromises might have to be made.

Saudi Arabia

The U.S.-Saudi relationship is fraught with complications. Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world, giving it influence over what Americans pay at the gas pump. At the same time, the kingdom’s human rights abuses are at odds with the United States’ stated democratic values. Who holds the power in this partnership? And what compromises are being made so the countries can work together?

Top Stories on CFR

Climate Change

The UN climate summit delivered on a loss and damage fund, but it fell short on goals to reduce emissions and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.


Malaysia's voters delivered an inconclusive message in the general election, leading to a hung parliament.


Despite limits to their political and social power, Iranian women are leading protests that could jeopardize the regime.