Five Historic Sports Events as Controversial as the Qatar FIFA World Cup

  • Brazilians were not happy hosts of the 2014 FIFA World Cup due to the multibillion-dollar costs
  • The Nazi Olympics in 1936 legitimized Hitler and his racist regime on a domestic and global level
  • Multiple national cricket teams shunned Zimbabwe tours for years as a result of Robert Mugabe
  • Many raised concerns with the 2022 Saudi F1 GP due to human rights issues and a missile attack
  • Tokyo’s COVID-19-hampered Olympics in 2021 may have been more trouble than they were worth
Brazil protesters against FIFA
From the expensive FIFA World Cup in Brazil to the COVID-19-hampered Olympics in Tokyo, VSO News has found five historic sporting events just as controversial as the upcoming Qatar FIFA World Cup. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A dark cloud looms

The FIFA World Cup is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, with 2018’s final racking up a global TV viewership of 1.1 billion people. To put that into context, the NBA finals averaged just 4.9 million viewers this year, while Super Bowl LVI had a total viewing audience of 208 million.

With so much attention placed on the soccer competition, hosting the event is seen as a major prize. Qatar is that lucky nation this year, but due to its intense summer heat the 2022 event will take place from November to December. This unusual scheduling has raised the eyebrows of soccer fans, but it is possibly the least of concerns surrounding the event.

the death of thousands of migrant construction workers

Qatar controversies have littered the headlines since its successful bid, including potential bribery, the death of thousands of migrant construction workers, and the host nation’s unfavorable stance on the LGBTQ+ community. All of this has cast a dark cloud over the World Cup, typically the pinnacle of the sport for soccer fans.

With the Qatar World Cup fast approaching, VegasSlotsOnline News has taken a look through the history books to find five similarly controversial sporting events.

Brazil FIFA World Cup – 2014

Brazil is a nation almost synonymous with soccer, from the countless goals of Pele to the silky skills of Neymar. However, a survey in 2018 indicated an interesting shift in public opinion towards the game. Ahead of that year’s World Cup in Russia, more than half of Brazilians said they had no interest in the tournament whatsoever.

Experts suggested numerous reasons for this apathy, but chief among them was a resentment that had built from the Brazil World Cup in 2014. Much like Qatar, it was an event that divided opinion. Brazil was ill-equipped to handle a World Cup at the time, meaning lawmakers had to approve vast spending on preparation, including the building of new stadiums and upgrading of public transportation.

total spend was roughly 61% of Brazil’s education budget

According to estimates, the World Cup cost the Brazil government around $11.63bn to host, the most expensive iteration of the tournament ever at that point. Despite their love for the sport, many Brazilians believed the money would be better spent on education or healthcare. In fact, the total spend was roughly 61% of Brazil’s education budget for that year and 31% of health care.

Public disapproval was so intense that it sparked multiple protests throughout the event:

Then there surfaced rumors of bribery over the awarding of construction contracts. In 2015, a major investigation in Brazil uncovered an unprecedented web of corruption between politicians, a state-owned oil company, and construction businesses. Reports claimed certain stadiums built for the World Cup had used those same firms, explaining inflated budgets.

Berlin Summer Olympics – 1936

The controversial event that probably needs the least introduction took place in Berlin, Germany in 1936. Dubbed the Nazi Olympics, the competition saw Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party host the Summer Olympic Games in Germany’s capital city. More than just a sporting event, it was a demonstration of Nazi propaganda on a global stage three years before the beginning of World War Two.

Due to the discriminatory nature of the Nazi doctrine, people in the US and Europe called for a boycott of the event for the first time in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Those movements ultimately failed. A total of 49 nations took part in the games, effectively legitimizing Hitler in front of the world as well as the domestic audience in Germany.

German athletics groups had introduced Aryan-only policies

Throughout the competition, the Nazi regime attempted to camouflage its racist policies. They removed anti-Jewish signs and toned down harsh rhetoric in newspapers and other media outlets. The signs were there in Germany’s participating athletes, however. German athletics groups had introduced Aryan-only policies, meaning many athletes could not compete in the games, including Jewish sportspeople.

One of the most notable stories from the games saw African American athlete Jesse Owens take home four gold medals in the track and field category:

After the event, stories surfaced claiming Hitler had snubbed Owens by refusing to shake his hand. The truth of these claims is still debated, with some reports suggesting Hitler refused to shake hands with most non-German athletes.

Zimbabwe Cricket – 2002 to 2016

Our next feature is less of an event and more of a period in sporting history, but it still sparks debate to this day. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the national Zimbabwe cricket team earned their place among the giants of the cricket world, beating Pakistan, England, Australia, and India. From 2002 to 2016, the team struggled to find opponents due to controversial domestic policies and suffered a staggering downturn in performance.

the seizure of 80% of white-owned farms from landowners

Robert Mugabe came to power as President of Zimbabwe in 1987, but it wasn’t until 2000 that he introduced his highly-criticized land reforms. This resulted in the seizure of 80% of white-owned farms from landowners, forcing thousands of evictions and arrests by 2002, including increased reports of violence and human rights violations.

In response to these policies, two members of the Zimbabwe national team protested during the 2003 World Cup. Henry Olonga and Andy Flower both wore black armbands during a match against Namibia to “mourn the death of democracy” in their home nation. Officials ultimately charged Olonga with treason and forced both players out of the country:

As a result of the issues, England boycotted their fixture against Zimbabwe for the 2003 Cricket World Cup. In 2008, the England and Wales Cricket Board followed Cricket South Africa’s lead in cutting ties with Zimbabwe completely, refusing to travel to the country for tours. A statement from the group noted the “deteriorating situation and lack of human rights” in the country.

Mugabe died at age 95 in 2019, but his damning legacy on Zimbabwe cricket lives on. England has still not played Zimbabwe since 2004. Meanwhile, the team is nowhere near the powerhouse it used to be prior to the introduction of Mugabe’s controversial policies.

Saudi Arabia F1 Grand Prix – 2022

Commenting on the weekend of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in 2022, F1 star Lewis Hamilton made clear his disapproval of the race location. “I am just looking forward to getting out,” he told reporters on the final day. “I just want to go home.” Along with various other drivers, the seven-time world champion has repeatedly shared his negative opinions on Saudi Arabia and its poor human rights record, including comments made in 2021:

Most notable among Saudi Arabia’s questionable policies is its commitment to executions. It is one of the nation’s currently carrying out the most executions in the world. In March this year, for instance, the country executed 81 men in a single day. Their crimes ranged from terrorism to kidnapping, and rape. Many rights organizations claim that prisoners do not receive fair trials in the country.

In addition to this, the nation’s reputation was damaged in 2018 over the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He was a prominent critic of the Saudi government, and human rights experts claim that government agents “used state means to execute” him.

The 2022 version of the Saudi GP proved particularly controversial for another reason. A missile strike at a nearby oil depot on the Friday night led to a four-hour driver meeting. At one stage, they looked unified in demanding a boycott of the event. F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali ultimately convinced them it was safe enough to continue, but the drivers agreed to discuss the future of the race at some point this year.

Many believe Saudi Arabia is using the F1 and other high-profile events as a form of ‘Sportswashing.’ This is when a country uses major sports events to increase its appeal on a global stage. In addition to motor racing, the country has hosted boxing events such as the Anthony Joshua rematch with Andy Ruiz in 2019. A new Saudi golf competition, named the Super Golf League, is also currently making waves.

Tokyo Summer Olympics – 2021

The Summer Olympics were due to take place in Tokyo, Japan in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to a year’s delay. Usually a symbol of global togetherness, the resulting competition proved controversial for a number of reasons, leading The New Yoker to dub them the “anger games.”

some wanted them abandoned altogether

Due to the danger of increased coronavirus infection, the majority of Japanese residents urged further postponement of the games – some wanted them abandoned altogether. In fact, only 22% of Japanese participants in an Ipsos Global Advisor poll wanted the Summer Olympics to go ahead as planned prior to launch, in contrast around 52% of Americans supported the games:

Demonstrating the poor timing of the games, the Japanese Prime Minister was forced to declare an official state of emergency in Tokyo from July 12 to August 22 due to increased COVID infections. It was a period that covered the entirety of the Olympics, meaning there were no spectators, and athletes were largely kept separate.

In 2020, reports of possible bribery damaged the games’ legacy further. According to claims made by French corruption prosecutors, International Olympic Committee members took bribes in return for favoring Japan’s bid to host the games. The Japanese businessman who secured their support received $8.2m for his work, says Reuters.

Added to this, expenditure ultimately far exceeded earlier estimates. Japan forked out around $10.7bn for the event, almost double initial predictions. It’s fair to say that the games might have proven a little more trouble than they were worth.