Flash Points

Themed journeys through our archive.

The Geopolitics of the World Cup

Where “the world’s game” and world politics intersect.

The emblem of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled.
The emblem of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled.
The emblem of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled at the Qatar National Archive building in Doha, Qatar, on Sept. 3, 2019. Christopher Pike/Getty Images for Supreme Committee 2022

As the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar, we thought we’d revisit some of our favorite coverage, past and present, of the world’s biggest sporting event.

In this edition of Flash Points, our contributors answer geopolitical questions surrounding international soccer today, such as why haven’t China and Turkey been able to qualify for the World Cup in two decades—even though Chinese President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have certainly tried? And can Qatar save its World Cup legacy? Read on to dive into how “the world’s game” and world politics intersect.—Chloe Hadavas

How Qatar Can Save Its World Cup Legacy

Media liberalization would allow journalists to report on the country’s labor reforms from within rather than imposing a jaded narrative from without, Craig L. LaMay writes.

As the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar, we thought we’d revisit some of our favorite coverage, past and present, of the world’s biggest sporting event.

In this edition of Flash Points, our contributors answer geopolitical questions surrounding international soccer today, such as why haven’t China and Turkey been able to qualify for the World Cup in two decades—even though Chinese President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have certainly tried? And can Qatar save its World Cup legacy? Read on to dive into how “the world’s game” and world politics intersect.—Chloe Hadavas


The shell of the Lusail Stadium is under construction.
The shell of the Lusail Stadium is under construction.

The shell of the Lusail Stadium is seen under construction for the World Cup in Doha on Dec. 19, 2019.Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

How Qatar Can Save Its World Cup Legacy

Media liberalization would allow journalists to report on the country’s labor reforms from within rather than imposing a jaded narrative from without, Craig L. LaMay writes.


Then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping kicks a Gaelic football as he visits Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 19, 2012.
Then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping kicks a Gaelic football as he visits Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 19, 2012.

Then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping kicks a Gaelic football as he visits Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 19, 2012. Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Xi Jinping Is the World’s Most Powerful Soccer Coach

China’s team is a national embarrassment—but the party chairman has big plans for the game, Jonathan White writes.


Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan plays soccer during an exhibition match at the Basaksehir stadium in Istanbul on July 26, 2014.
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan plays soccer during an exhibition match at the Basaksehir stadium in Istanbul on July 26, 2014.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan plays soccer during an exhibition match at the Basaksehir stadium in Istanbul on July 26, 2014.Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

Captain Erdogan Can’t Help the Turkish Soccer Team

With so much political, social, and financial capital invested in its national squad, Patrick Keddie writes, why can’t Turkey qualify for a World Cup?


Members of the Croatian soccer team celebrate after scoring a goal against Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia, on June 16.
Members of the Croatian soccer team celebrate after scoring a goal against Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia, on June 16.

Members of the Croatian soccer team celebrate after scoring a goal against Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia, on June 16.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

How a WWII-Era Chant Found Its Way to World Cup 2018

Symbols have power, even in soccer. Just ask Croatia, Lev Golinkin writes.


Children play soccer in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 7, 2010.
Children play soccer in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 7, 2010.

Children play soccer in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 7, 2010.Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

How Soccer Defeated Apartheid

As South Africa prepared to host the World Cup, it also came face to face with its own history, Nicholas Griffin writes.

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