Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?
Hopefully you got to spend time with loved ones. Did you host, or did you travel to someone else’s home?
If folks were in your home, how did you treat them? If you were a visitor, did you respect the practices of the family in whose home you found yourself?
Similar questions are being asked on the world stage.
For those who might not know, the World Cup kicked off this past week in Qatar. It has been controversial.
The selection of the Arab nation itself raised eyebrows. A country with routine 100-degree days in the summer was odd. FIFA moved it to a winter event. Accusations of bribery hounded the pick. And that says nothing about the thousands of reported deaths amongst migrant workers put to the task of building the infrastructure.
But, in the words of Ted Lasso, the world is full of goldfish. Those criticisms have fallen away as the spectacle begins.
However, other scandals have taken their place.
Just two days prior to the first match, FIFA announced that alcohol sales would be generally verboten at the stadiums. Brands like Budweiser — who paid FIFA $75 million for the beer sponsorship — were left in the lurch, having prepared copious amounts of their product for the hooligans of Europe and elsewhere.
On the pitch, players have been silenced. Many European teams had planned to wear “OneLove” armbands to show support for various minority groups. Fearful of offending the Qatari government, FIFA threatened European teams with penalties if they wore the armbands.
It’s a mess.
However it came to be, Qatar invited the world over for a celebration when it sought to host the World Cup. They had the right to reasonably expect their guests to honor some baseline rules.
For example, they have asked visitors to generally abide by a more modest dress code. That is not unreasonable. At Thanksgiving, you probably didn’t want to see your uncle wearing cut-off jean shorts and a too-tight tank top.
But if you’re going to invite people over, you should probably offer them food and drink that they like. I’m sure a vegan attending a Thanksgiving feast would not find a turducken appetizing and would probably be put off at being asked to partake. Meanwhile, European soccer fans find that imbibing is a big part of their experience.
Telling guests that they should be seen and not heard is inhospitable. That is equally true at a dinner table as it is in a stadium.
One team that would not be cowed by Qatari speech restrictions was, oddly enough, Iran.
In protest of their country’s ongoing brutal crackdown, they leaned into the silence and refused to sing their national anthem. One player said plainly that the Iranian people wanted “nothing special — just freedom.”
As we close the Thanksgiving weekend, that freedom is something Americans should be thankful for. When we host the World Cup in four years, our guests will be free to speak their mind. If European teams want to protest our tradition of firearms ownership, go for it. If Arab or Latin nations want to criticize our history in their countries, so be it.
We often take for granted the remarkable luxury afforded to us as Americans. For most of human history, criticizing the ruling powers was a dangerous gambit. And for billions of people alive today, it still is.
But it isn’t here.
Our freedom to dissent is something many others do not receive; if there is any doubt about that, you just need to turn on your television. Ask the Iranians. Ask those in Qatar.
For all our faults, in the long story of human history, we remain a remarkable nation. So have a leftover turkey sandwich, tell your elected officials all the ways they are fouling things up, and cheer on Team USA.