The Oxford Union members warmed up by debating whether “this house would penalise sports teams for their fans’ actions”. As this was the second and final week of Nawaz’s extended open period, the debate was accessible to all twenty-six thousand bod-card carrying students at the university. The chair for the members debate announced the motion. “Would anyone like to speak for the proposition?” There was a long silence. Finally, someone was cajoled to the front where they delivered the dazzling point that people usually go to sports matches to support only one side. As the debate went on it began to feel like a self-help group for fans of ill-fated regional football clubs. “Hi, my name’s Alex, and I support Brentford Football Club.” “Hi, my name’s Derek and I support Huddersfield Town.” The chair scrolled through his phone with a look of intense concentration. I idly read the notice on the back of my program detailing that no one should use their phones, but that “interpretation of the forms of the house rests with the chair.” I got my phone out.
The Union Committee strutted in for the real debate. Their business this week consisted of gently patting themselves on the back for the immense influence they must have, since Truss resigned after last week’s debate concluded that the Union had “no confidence” in his majesty’s government. This causality is as substantiated as the age of Miss America influencing the number of deaths by steam, vapour, and hot objects.[i] Lettuce jokes were made with all the delighted glee of the first time someone compared a woman to rotting produce, probably sometime Before Christ.
The proposition for a boycott of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar put forth a variable front. The first speaker, Lukas Seifert, aggressively nice, waxed lyrical about the beautiful game and his guilt at eating inorganic meat. He ended with some practical suggestions for how to boycott the World Cup whilst still watching it, barely onside. Thomas Beattie, the first openly gay professional footballer since 1990, gave a moving speech about the plight of the gay community in Qatar. The staging of the World Cup in Qatar was not motivated by bringing change, he argued, gracefully avoiding mention of the $1 million in bribes Fifa officials have reportedly accepted. David Fevre, the godfather of sports medicine, opened his speech with nearly a minute of name dropping. He lamented the modern politics of sport and suggested any kind of political protest at the games, such as rainbow badges, would be merely a “vague statement” placating audiences at home. Ciaron Tobin finished off the proposition. He began by telling the now emptier hall that the union was great fun, and everyone should “just get involved’” His speech was full of non sequiturs: we lurched from Qatar; to the labour party; to why one should pick your local chicken shop over any MacDonalds. “A boycott from the bottom forces a boycott from the top.” He ended on the principled argument of comfort above all. Why go to Qatar when you’d be more comfortable at home?
Lewis Fisher, the first speaker for the opposition, gave a good speech in favour of a compensation fund rather than a boycott. He finished, rather unfortunately, with the insensitive hope that football would come home. Martyn Ziegler, a sports reporter who has reported on every World Cup for the last twenty years, argued that cash-for-votes in major sporting events has been the norm. On his raised stage, the president folded his programme into a little fan. Minky Worden, an impressive director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, opposed the boycott and instead advocated for better forms of action. A compensation fund, supported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is the “only available remedy” for the grieving families of the thousands of migrant workers who have died in Qatar during the construction of the stadiums. She argued that this, rather than a boycott, would prove to prospective hosts for the 2030 World Cup, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that human rights are imperative. Dan Kilpatrick, the football correspondent for the Evening Standard, opened the final speech for the opposition with a question: “Mum and Dad, are you still awake?” We all craned around to see a couple nodding supportively at the back. As a member of the media, he pleaded the need for impartial media coverage to hold the Qatari government to account.
The evening’s debate was inconclusive because the opposition did not prove that a boycott and the reparations that they advocated for were mutually exclusive. The House barely decided against the Boycott with 84 votes against, and 80 for.
Image credit: Joe Emmens