Countries heading to the FIFA World Cup, including Canada, have called for more inclusivity and workers’ rights in host country Qatar, a move that a University of Guelph sport historian calls “virtue signaling.”  

Dr. Alan McDougall in front of a pale grey backdrop
Dr. Alan McDougall

Dr. Alan McDougall is a professor in the Department of History at the College of Arts where he researches the history of sport with an emphasis on soccer. His new book out this fall is Football Nation: The Playing Fields of German Culture, History, and Society. 

McDougall believes Canada Soccer’s statement regarding Qatar’s political controversies “could have been stronger, but there’s a tricky political balance to strike.”  

“The men’s team is making its first appearance at a World Cup in 36 years. So how much rocking of the political boat do they want to do?” he says. 

Qatar has seen an unprecedented level of political criticism for “very justified reasons,” says McDougall, and yet soccer federations’ statements give no indication of boycotting the tournament.  

For McDougall, the current wave of statements from federations, teams, players and coaches appears to be more about PR than serious political intent.  

“I expect that the pre-tournament controversies about human rights and labour conditions will quiet down once the football begins. This is what always happens,” he said. 

McDougall notes the World Cup, like the Olympic Games, has often taken place amid political controversies in the host country. The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy under Mussolini’s rule, and the 1978 tournament was held in Argentina when the country was under a military dictatorship. Both countries won, to the benefit of the regimes. 

“All this will make for a fascinating watch, on and off the field,” he said 

McDougall recently discussed issues involving the World Cup with Sports Business Journal, CTV News, and Mornings with Sue and Andy on Global News Radio. He is available for interviews. 

Dr. Alan McDougall