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Are players faking injuries to miss the World Cup?

I know what you’re thinking: “This is insane. Nobody would intentionally miss the World Cup. It’s the largest event on the planet, and for the players, it's something they’ve dreamed about since childhood.”

And to an extent, you’d be correct, but this story isn’t exactly about injuries. It’s about social issues and the appalling track record of the nation that's hosting the tournament. Could it be remotely possible that players would feign injury to avoid being part of an event that's riddled with human rights abuses? 

Everyone at this point has heard the numbers. The Guardian claims 6,500 migrant workers have lost their lives in Qatar since 2010. This weekend, Bundesliga fans displayed banners saying, “15,000 deaths for 5,760 minutes of football — shame on you.”

FIFA claims the number is three.

Many reports and stories have come out highlighting the horrors of the Kafala labor system. While it's true that legally much has improved, in practice, many workers continue to suffer. The changes that've been made have been weak and slow and seem to line up with the tournament being built on time a bit too conveniently. 

Change for the sake of public perception is consistent with the messages that Qatar has put out for decades. 

As the world continues its unstoppable march through time, it remains as important as ever to remember those who've been left behind so we can improve the lives of future generations. 

If the tournament was to hold a minute of silence for each worker who died according to The Guardian’s estimate, the silence would last over four and a half days. Despite what Qatar would prefer, for many, the toll will not be easily forgotten. 

While many of the workers' rights issues have been addressed by Qatar, the current human rights abuses and the active laws against LGBTQIA+ individuals have been largely ignored or belittled. We’ve seen tremendous strides made in the soccer world alone toward acceptance, and while obviously we are far from finished, hosting the World Cup in a country where homosexuality is illegal is a massive step in the wrong direction.

We’ve seen many protests among players in the build-up to the tournament. National teams including the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Germany have worn shirts to support change and bring attention to human rights issues. Harry Kane has said he will wear an armband supporting homosexuality while in Qatar. 

The Australian national team put together a poignant video highlighting a host of issues in Qatar, and they've stated specific goals they hope to achieve to leave a lasting impact “that football can truly be proud of.” But the fact remains that the tournament will still go on in Qatar and criticism of these issues will not be brought up during broadcasts. 

Players may consider boycotting the tournament, but this really would not be possible. It's likely that they would be fined by their respective federation or risk future call-ups as a result of their protest. So their only option remains attendance, participation and cooperation. Right?

In recent weeks, we've seen a host of devastating injuries to high-profile players ruling them out of the tournament. With the opening match just two weeks away, even the smallest knock could force players to miss minutes in Qatar. These injuries are giving fans nightmares and forcing managers to scout backups, as well as backups for the backups. 

An obvious and most likely accurate reason for this increase in injuries can be tied to the timing of the tournament itself. 

With the World Cup being held in November and December, most leagues around the world needed to make amendments to their schedules to accommodate the month-long tournament in the middle of the season. This artificial change forced many leagues to pack in games at every possible point from the beginning of the season. 

This uptick in injuries is clearly terrible and seeing players get hurt is never good, especially right before a major tournament. But is it possible that a player who would have considered boycotting could use an injury as a way of getting out of going to Qatar? 

I want to make this abundantly clear, I'm in no way accusing any players of faking injuries and I have no examples or stats to prove that it's happening. I'm trying to draw attention to the issues that've plagued the 2022 FIFA World Cup and question whether a silent boycott through injury may be possible. 

What’s stopping a player who bruised his ankle and doesn’t want to go to a tournament where thousands of workers died or a player who tweaked his hamstring and disagrees with Qatar’s laws against homosexuality? 

It would be much easier from a publicity perspective, as the player would be spared from having to explicitly boycott and face the potential ramifications of that decision. 

However, the $220 billion elephant in the room remains the fact that it's the World Cup. It’s the largest event on Earth, and for players and fans alike, it's not something that can just be ignored. We’ll all tune in when the United States faces off against Wales and be glued to our screens to watch what will likely be Messi and Ronaldo’s final major tournament. 

That’s what makes this so difficult. For years the World Cup has been half jubilation as a soccer fan and half recognition that it’s a massive waste of money. The winners are those who excel in compartmentalization. Being able to watch the biggest celebration of soccer and yet understand that nothing exists in a vacuum. 

The issues with the tournament being held in Qatar are innumerable, and those in attendance will absolutely be aware of the facts. But for those who continue to ignore the downsides and heed FIFA’s advice to “focus on the football,” Qatar has already won. 

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