Qatar World Cup 2022

Simran Verma
December 21, 2022

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was one of the biggest cultural moments of the year. From setting viewership records in the knockout stages, to a thrilling final contest that drove the highest search traffic in Google’s history, and even Lionel Messi posting the most-liked social media photo ever, it was a truly monumental event. The evolution of multi-platform streaming, 24/7 coverage, and massive growth in historically dispassionate markets like the U.S. may even catapult this World Cup past 2018’s contest which reached more than half the planet. Yet many are still wondering how a tournament celebrating “the world’s game” can be held in a country that openly deprives migrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people of basic rights. Follow us below as we recap the 2022 World Cup, and what it means for The Culture.

The Sport of America’s Future

Soccer fandom in the U.S. has increased by over 52% in the last decade, in large part driven by the success of the Women’s national team, and the maturation of domestic leagues like the MLS and NWSL. Yet an even bigger driver of growth stems from the massive demographic shift that the U.S. is currently experiencing.

The U.S. Latine population has increased by over 25 million since 2000, contributing more to the country’s overall population growth than any other demographic - and nearly three quarters (73%) of them identify as soccer fans. They are also three times more likely to call themselves superfans than non-Latine viewers.

Furthermore, diverse and multicultural audiences have proven to be more interested in international sports, with Latine (45%), Asian (36%), and LGBTQ+ (36%) Americans outpacing the total population (28%) by a significant margin. As their influence grows in the U.S., so too will the passion for soccer.

Another indicator that soccer is the sport of America’s future is its popularity with young people. High school soccer participation increased by 32% between 2002 and 2019, while basketball and football both saw negative growth in that time. Unlike other sports, soccer is decidedly egalitarian with nearly identical participation between boys and girls, and is the fastest-growing major team sport among all U.S. high school students.


The growth of soccer fandom in the U.S. is just one of many reasons why the 2022 World Cup is poised to be the biggest sporting event of all time - and no one is happier about this than officials of the host country. From the moment it was announced in 2010, the Qatar World Cup has been mired in controversy as a blatant example of sportswashing, or “the propagandistic use of athletics by a government to launder its tarnished reputation.”

The decision to hold a global celebration of an inclusive and egalitarian sport, inside an authoritarian country with a history of human rights abuses was not lost on fans, players, or world leaders. Yet even after high profile boycotts, damning reports about the staggering migrant worker death toll, and Qatari officials openly defending their ban on homosexuality, the tournament kicked off and - as designed - took center stage.

An opening ceremony performance by Jungkook of BTS quickly began to overshadow the bad press that had been swirling. Outrage over the banning of LGBTQ+ “One Love” armbands was eclipsed by Saudi Arabia’s shocking defeat of Argentina. Demonstrations and protests by the players could not obscure the play, especially as historic runs by underdogs like Japan and South Korea began to develop.

Yet above all, the 2022 World Cup will undoubtedly be remembered for its storybook ending, where Lionel Messi and Argentina dethroned defending champs France to claim the most elusive prize in sport. By seemingly every metric, this year’s tournament was a runaway success - and no one benefitted from that success more than Qatar who was able to turn a $220+ billion dollar investment into a priceless supply of soft power.

The Opportunity

Ultimately, the 2022 World Cup proves that sportswashing can be an effective tool in redefining a country’s image, even if the road isn’t always smooth. However, there is an argument to be made that putting the spotlight on Qatar will force change for the better, but only time will tell. What is clear is that the power of sport, and soccer in particular, cannot be overstated, and the potential for it to affect culture is more apparent than ever.

The 2026 World Cup is set to be hosted across North America, and has an opportunity to rectify the dangerous precedent the Qatari tournament may have set. Rather than allowing countries like Qatar to amass reputational capital by exploiting the world’s genuine love of soccer, the 2026 event can be about highlighting what makes the sport so great to begin with: it belongs to everyone, everywhere. 

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