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World Cup 2022: Public Policy, Public Administration and Some Soccer Too

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Deitchman
May 20, 2022

Just four short years ago, the pre-pandemic world marveled at a sporting spectacle across the packed stadiums of the Russian Federation. While Russian President Vladimir Putin was an established geopolitical adversary of Western European and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, French President Emmanuel Macron stood next to him in Moscow celebrating France’s victory over Croatia in the 2018 World Cup Final. Hundreds of the best men’s soccer players will venture to Qatar this November and December aiming to achieve athletic glory for their national teams, but, along with the ball games, the reality of our complicated international community will be on display in the arenas and on televisions across the globe.

Russia’s team will not be on the field among the 32 other countries at this next World Cup. Russian teams had faced various levels of sanctions in international competition in recent years due to illicit performance enhancing drug programs, but global outcry after the unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine led to the decision to expel Russia from the qualification process. Should Ukraine itself manage to qualify against Scotland and Wales this June, the Ukrainians will open the group stage against the United States in a match that will inspire—regardless of the result. The last of three group stage opponents for the United States, Iran, will also reflect ongoing geopolitical conflicts, between the two teams directly involved in the match. The United States famously and embarrassingly lost to Iran at the 1998 World Cup and tensions have continued to grow over Middle Eastern policy and regional hegemony. The United States will also meet England in the group stage, but over two centuries after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, this soccer (or football to the English) rivalry can primarily be about sporting honor (or honour to the English) amongst transatlantic friends and allies.

The United States will begin the tournament after November’s divisive Midterm Elections (the week of Thanksgiving) and, although the 2019 United States Women’s National Team that won the World Cup managed to find itself embroiled in news cycles of controversies with President Donald Trump, these games could be an opportunity to wave the red, white and blue across the country. The United States team reflects our diversity and ongoing immigration and integration of new Americans. As is true for many teams at the World Cup, including France, several players for the United States had the opportunity to play for their birth countries or their parents’ birth countries, but chose to wear the stars and stripes. For example, Timothy Weah, the son of the Former President of Liberia and former soccer star George Weah, may make the final roster to go to Qatar for the United States. Diverse groups of well compensated men at the prime age for athletic competition do not say everything about the countries they represent, but they are a tapestry in the stories of contemporary society.

The relationship between the United States and its neighbors is peaceful even if it is imperfect, but cohosting the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico will help to highlight and further cooperation in North America. The three countries have existing stadiums and, although there is always a need for infrastructure improvements, they are already well positioned for the travelers and games. The Qatari public management programs set to deliver the 2022 World Cup, however, have been a disaster. The stadiums will look beautiful and the organization, even amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic, should succeed, but the toll taken on the mostly migrant workers facing abusive conditions and danger to complete this effort for the regime has been a major violation of human rights that should foster an appreciation for governmental and industry standard health, safety and employment protections where they exist. The rebukes of the Qatari government in its pursuit and delivery of this glamor project for its leadership are well founded and a horrifying model of corrupt and inhumane public administration.

For all of the lessons we can learn as public policy and public administration students, scholars and professionals, there will be excellent soccer to watch at the end of this calendar year. My fan prediction is that the United States will advance to the quarterfinals. As far as the world champion, in a rivalry with a military history from the 1982 Falklands War and a soccer history including the infamous 1986 “Hand of God” goal from Diego Maradona, I predict that Lionel Messi will complete his career as one of the all-time greats with an Argentina victory over England in the World Cup Final. Please do not take this as betting advice. In fact, the growth of legalized sports betting across the country is another sports-related public policy issue for another time. For now, enjoy the games and go USA!

Author: Benjamin Deitchman is a public policy practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Deitchman is on Twitter at Deitchman. His email address is [email protected].

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