The Most Notorious World Cup Scandals in History

FIFA World Cup is more than just a sports tournament. Emotions run wild; fans go bonkers, and nations unite. Throughout World Cup history, there have been many incredible moments that every football fan will have etched in their memory. From a stunning goal to a superb save, every match has something interesting in store for the viewers.

That being said, there have also been negative moments that could hinder the beauty of this game. A few became such huge talking points that they overshadowed the whole competition. With this in mind, we walk through some of the most debated controversies and scandals in World Cup history, those that really shocked the world, including controversies surrounding the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

28. Argentina’s First Title Win

The 1978 World Cup was embroiled in controversy as Argentina went on to win its first World Cup trophy. Their first scandal took place in the first match of Group B, where Argentina had to defeat Peru by four goals minimum to progress to the next round. Peru won miserably that day as six balls went past Argentina-born Peruvian keeper Ramón Quiroga into the nets.

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For the final, the contender, the Netherlands, had to face the wrath of an angry 70,000 crowd. As they took up 20 extra minutes, the Dutch team had to sit through the audience screaming at them for 10 minutes. Argentina was successful in beating the Netherlands that day by 3-1 (in extra time), and thus, they earned their first, albeit controversial, World Cup title.

27. The Only Time an Official Result Was Changed Due to Someone From the Stands

In their solo appearance at the World Cup, Kuwait was placed into a group with France, England, and Czechslovakia. Given the reputation of their competition, primarily France and England, needless to say, they were no favorites at that stage. After scoring 1-1 against Czechoslovakia, they were set to face France. With 4 goals in their bag, France was flying to victory, whereas Kuwait lagged with only one goal.

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However, a whistle went off from the stands, and the players stopped in their tracks, thinking that it was the final. Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the then-president of the Kuwait Football Association, ordered the players to leave the pitch. Miroslav Stupar, the Ukrainian referee decided to nullify the goal, establishing a record for the only times an official result was changed due to someone from the stands. Kuwait was soon eliminated from the tournament.

26. A Last-minute Penalty

World Cup 1974 was not kind to Australia, as the team failed to make the cut for the knockout rounds. However, for the 2006 edition, they managed to turn a corner and make it to the Round of 16, scheduled to play against Italy. The match commenced, and it all went smoothly till the 50th minute. Marco Materazzi got a red card for a tackle, and the Italian team went down to 10 men.

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It was rather obvious that the most he deserved was a yellow card. Irrespective of that, the scores of the match remained 0-0 until Fabio Grosso dribbled into the penalty box, and Italy earned a last-minute penalty due to a missed tackle on Lucas Neill’s end. The penalty taken by Franceso Totti gave Italy the pass to their next round.

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25. Three Yellow Cards

The 2006 World Cup Group Stage matches saw Australia and Croatia facing off for the spot of Group F’s runner. British referee Graham Poll surely left a big impression on the match. In the seventh minute of the match, Australian captain Mark Viduka was pushed away from the ball by Josip Šimunić, raising questions about a penalty that Poll denied. Šimunić was at it again, getting cautioned for tackling Harry Kewell in the 61st minute.

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Šimunić earned his second warning in the 90th minute for a poor foul. Even then, Poll refused to give him the red card. Once the final whistle went off, Šimunić tried to push Poll, forcing the latter to finally red card him. Poll later revealed that it was a mistake on his part and that he had accidentally given Aussie player Craig Moore the second offense.

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24. Battle of Nuremberg

Emotions run wild in the World Cup, especially when it’s the knockout stage. In the Round of 16 matches in World Cup 2006, Portugal and Netherlands got involved in a nasty argument, which was surprising given how they were not known to be chippy. Valentin Ivanov, the match’s Russian referee didn’t have a grip on the match from the start, as he handed out 4 red cards and 16 yellow cards that match, making a record for any match in a FIFA game.

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Things started going downhill in only the second minute after Marco van Basten got a booking. Portuguese player Luis Figo was yellow-carded for a headbutt, a stunt that should automatically have earned him a red card. Portugal won the match with one goal on the scoreboard, but later, Portugal’s manager spoke about Figo’s headbutt.

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23. Schumacher versus Battiston

The World Cup of 1982 had an interesting semifinal when West Germany was facing off against France. Substitute Patrick Battiston followed a loose ball into the box, unaware that this would change his life forever. The German keeper Harald Schumacher jumped in to save the post and turned his body, keeping his back facing forward, causing Patrick to collapse on the ground.

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He lost two teeth and suffered a broken vertebra in the crash, as it seemed that he almost lost his life. To add salt to the wounds, Charles Corver, the Dutch referee, announced the play would not be a penalty but a goal kick. Schumacher saved the final kick of the penalty and helped West Germany climb to the finals, where they eventually lost to Italy by 3-1.

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22. Battle of Santiago

Chile was playing against Italy in a Group 2 clash. There was history there as Chile had experienced the largest earthquake in history just 2 years ago, and two journalists from Italy, Corrado Pizzinelli and Antonio Ghiredelli, called Santiago a dump prior to the tournament, raising tension in Chile. Merely 10 seconds into the match and the first foul happened from Honorino Landa.

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The Guardian

Although he was red-carded in the 12th minute, he eventually had to be dragged out by the police after he refused to leave. Chile’s Leonel Sanchez punched Italy’s Mario David but faced no repercussions while David was pulled out a few minutes after landing a kick on Sanchez’s head. Afterward, Sanchez broke Maschio’s nose, and the cops had to intervene an additional 3 times to stop the many scuffles taking place amidst the match. The most infamous match in FIFA World Cup history saw Chile winning 2-0.

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21. Algeria Joined the Party

When they appeared in the World Cup for the first time, Algeria proved themselves to be underdogs, beating West Germany and getting one step closer to the next group. The final group fixture changed the equations since the matches were played at separate times, allowing Austria and West Germany to realize that if the latter won 1-0 over Austria, they could proceed to the next round.

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10 minutes after the match started, West Germany secured that goal, and the game calmed down as neither side did anything significant for the rest of it. Thanks to that, West Germany and Austria moved to the next round in a moment termed by the West German manager as “progress, not football.” Today, every final fixture in a FIFA tournament group match runs at the same time to avoid this.

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20. South Korea’s Beef with the Officials

As one of the 2 host nations of the 2002 World Cup, Asian team South Korea was hoping to finally get out of the group stage. But all their achievements were overshadowed by the blunders of the referees. Past their group stage, Korea was set to play against Italy in the Round of 16. Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno seemed hell-bent on helping South Korea progress to the next round, disallowing one legitimate Italian goal as well as controversially dismissing Francesco Totti.

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Ahn Jung-Hwan’s goal helped South Korea reach the quarterfinal, where they received “special” treatment from the Egyptian referee. South Korea won that match against Spain with a 5-3 on penalties. A while later, the two referees were compelled to retire on allegations of match-fixing (Moreno) and getting a new car after the match (Ghandour).

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19. Maradona’s Doping and Hand of God

Diego Maradona was as controversial as he was iconic. World Cup history would be incomplete without two of his memorable moments that defined how people see sports today. In 1986, Argentina was playing against England in the quarterfinal when in the 51st minute, Maradona ventured into the box to guard control of the ball against English goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Keep in mind Shilton was 8” taller than Maradona.

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But for a moment, Maradona got “bigger” than the keeper when he hit the ball with “The Hand of God,” giving Argentina a 1-0 lead. 8 years later, the football legend halted his career after testing positive for his dope test, which suspended him from the national team. Argentina was knocked out of the World Cup shortly after.

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18. Vindication

Sports are filled with controversy, but very few are as significant as the events of the 1966 World Cup final between West Germany and England. In the 101st minute, English player Hurst shoot his shot against the crossbar, and it ricocheted down inside the goal line before going out. While Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst did not know what to do, Soviet referee Tofik Bakhramov announced that the ball had passed the line.

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Bakhramov’s memoirs suggest that the ball had jumped back from the net, not the crossbar. It is said that when he was in his final days, Bakhramov was asked what made him sure of the goal’s validity, to which he replied with one word: Stalingrad. Stalingrad is the former name of a Russian city where 75,000 Soviets laid their lives against German soldiers.

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17. By the Book

The moniker “The Book” fit Welsh official Clive Thomas well, as he was a man famous for his pedantry. However, his jobsworth approach reached new heights during the opening game of World Cup 1978, where Sweden was facing off against Brazile. As the game’s normal time ended, the scoreboard read 1-1, but the South Americans managed to net a 91st-minute goal – courtesy of Zico and Nelinho.

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The Guardian

Although Thomas had let Brazil take the corner shot, he blew the whistle when the ball was mid-air, thinking that a stoppage time of 15 seconds was more than enough. FIFA sent him home for excessive nitpicking with time, but this did not bring any changes within Thomas. He later stressed that there was a chance that Zico was only four-tenths of a second late but still late.

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16. A French Revolt

The French are known to have a flair for the dramatic, but the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa was surely something else. Bad luck hit them the night before the first match when Florent Malouda almost feuded with his boss, Raymond Domenech. Things worsened after a slow 45 minutes against their rival, Mexico, when Anelka cursed out Domenech. The French Football Federation decided to send the striker home, much to the dismay of the French team, who protested the next day.

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Captain Patrice Evra led the team to abandon an open training session, heading for the team bus instead. The mutiness quickly drafted a statement voicing their disagreement with the expulsion of Anelka. This did not put a dent in the FFF’s decision. And after losing their last match to hosts South Africa, the 23-member squad was suspended for one match.

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15. Ronaldo Mystery

Having created 3 assists and scored four goals on his 1998 World Cup journey, Ronaldo was set to be Brazil’s next legend after Pele. Sufficient to say fans were stunned when the striker was removed from the starting line-up just 72 minutes before the final. As the news started to cause waves across the globe, he was reinstated to the team. The visibly confused striker spent 90 minutes on the field, barely surviving the blows that France dealt as the Europeans won the match 3-0.

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Later, the news was published that he had suffered a severe seizure hours before the match but allegedly begged coach Mario Zagallo to allow him on the field at the last minute. To this day, controversies persist about the event.

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14. Lampard’s Non-Goal

Karma is funny and quite real. The 1966 World Cup final saw England score a questionable goal in a match against Germany, where they won 4-2. 44 years later, the English were denied a goal they surely thought would make the cut. Germany was leading 2-1 in the first half of the game when English Frank Lampard was assumed to have evened the score with a goal that jumped off the top goalpost.

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The referee made no call for this goal, and the German keeper Manuel Neuer fetched the ball quickly and immediately shoved it forward as a counterattack. Since VAR was not a thing back then, there was no way to review this goal and re-confirm it. Instead, Germany delivered more World Cup melancholy for the English as they won the knockout match.

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13. Red Card to Beckham

England and Argentina were facing off in the Round of 16 in the 1998 World Cup. The scores were tied 2-2 in the early second half when English superstar David Beckham was fouled by Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone. Simeone pushed the midfielder in the back as he got up. In response, Beckham, while still on the ground, whipped his leg at the other, and Simeone fell over.

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These chaotic recurring events transpired in front of the match’s referee, who handed Simeone a yellow card and sent Becks back. All this conflict blighted the glory of the inspiring goal by Michael Owen, “Boy Wonder,” to give his side a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, Argentina won that match after it rolled to the penalty session.

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12. Les Bleus Blue

France’s 2010 World Cup experience began with controversy, so it was a given that the end would not be pleasant. They were scheduled to play against Ireland in the 2nd leg of a qualifying playoff. Thierry Henry was busy handling the ball up ahead to the winning score. After losing to Mexico in a game, Anelka got into a heated argument with coach Raymond Domenech. Since he refused to apologize, he was sent home. A mutiny formed among the French players, and they refused to practice the day after the dismissal.

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It was later revealed that Anelka was banned from the national team for life. All 23 members of the team were made to sit out for the next game, which happened to be a friendly match against Norway. Apart from Anelka’s career going up in flames, 4 others were banned, including Eric Abidal, Evra, Franck Ribery, and Jeremy Toulalan.

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11. Escobar’s Own Goal

Who thought that the United States would be a powerful contender for Colombia? In the World Cup of 1994, Andres Escobar made a mistake that would haunt him for the rest of his life: his own goal. Own goals happen from time to time and are often heavily criticized. The United States was an underdog in the game before the 35th minute approached, and Escobar gave away a goal.

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This gave the U.S. a lead of 1-0 before both they and the opponent added one more goal to their tallies. Therefore, the U.S. advanced to the knockout round – the first time since the knockout stage of the 1930 World Cup. The promising team of Colombia had to bid adieu to their World Cup team after only three games. In a horrific turn of events, Escobar was assassinated in his hometown days after his elimination.

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10. Suarez Bites

By the time his team had qualified for the 2014 World Cup, Luis Suarez had built up a weird reputation. The Uruguayan striker was known for biting his opponents. In 2010, Suarez dug his teeth into a PSV Eindhoven player while donning the Ajax jersey. He was suspended for 7 games following this event.

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In 2013 he was playing for Liverpool when his next victim caught his eye: a player for Chelsea. The punishment was more rigid this time; he got suspended for ten games. When Suarez bit Italian player Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup, the striker was suspended for all soccer-related activities for four months. Has he reformed his ways and started playing without causing physical harm to his rivals? Debatable.

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9. Embarrassed at Home

Host nations have an obvious advantage in every game of the World Cup. Thus, when Brazil was hosting the 2014 World Cup, fans were anticipating another trophy win. Instead, those dreams and aspirations were completely destroyed during a historic FIFA match. By the time the whistle of halftime blew, Germany was leading by 5-0. Forget the fans, the casual viewers were feeling sorry for the host country.

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Sadly, for Brazil, the blows kept coming. As the 90th-minute mark arrived, Brazil could heave a sigh of relief as they would not be humiliated further that night. Germany left Brazil in the dust with a baffling 7-0 win. Granted, the team ended up winning the tournament that day. Brazil lost 3-0 to the Netherlands for the third-place position.

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8. Odd Turn of Events

By 1950, America’s association football had depleted. The American Soccer League’s glory days had been left behind at least two decades ago, and the NASL did not exist them. So, the U.S. had no form of professional soccer, and the majority of the country’s best players were full-time job-holders, playing soccer as a hobby only. Regardless, they had to form a term of semi-pro players after the nation somehow managed to qualify for its first World Cup in 56 years.

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They lost 3-1 to Spain in their opening match, and people had, to put it softly, little to no hope for them. However, the U.S. was able to turn the tides on the “Kings of Football,” thanks to the magic goal from Joe Gaetjens in the 38th minute. Paired with Frank Borghi’s stubborn goalkeeping allowed the U.S. to pull off a great World Cup upset.

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7. Zidane’s Headbutt

It’s never easy to see players fall from grace on the cusp of a career-changing triumph. Think of Peyton Manning or John Elway getting thrown out of the field in the midst of a spine-chilling Super Bowl. Before there were the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane was undoubtedly the ultimate footballer. Everyone idolized him.

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With his team tied up with Italy even in extra time and aiming for a 2nd trophy win in 3 tournaments, Zidane fell prey to a clever Italian defender’s ploys. Marco Materazzi provoked the footballer, who violently headbutted him a moment later. Of course, Zidane was red-carded and had to leave the field. With a befuddled worldwide audience glued to their screens, Italy won their fourth World Cup after winning the penalty against France.

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6. Stolen Cup

The shiny gold trophy that is awarded to the champions of the World Cup can only be touched by the previous winners, a president, and a certain group of people. Despite being under strict security protocols, the trophy has been stolen twice. Since the inception of the World Cup in 1930, 2 trophies have been in use – the first one named the Jules Rimet Trophy (1930-1970), and the other the FIFA World Cup Trophy (1974-current).

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On March 20, 1966, the Jules Rimet Trophy was sniped from its safe walls, only four months before the World Cup. What’s more concerning is that it was taken during a public exhibition taking place at Westminster Central Hall, London. The trophy was recovered seven days later by a dog named Pickles. It was wrapped in a newspaper in Beulah Hill, South London.

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6. A S***x Scandal Broke Out From the Serbian Team in World Cup 2022

There has been a rumor that two members of the Serbian national soccer team, Dusan Vlahovics and Nemanja Gudelj, had sexual relations with Predrag Rajkovics’s wife and Luka Jovics’ girlfriend during the final. They are their teammates. The speculation arose because Vlahovics, a key player for the team, did not play in the match against Cameroon. The Juventus team has reportedly been following the rumor closely.

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Vlahovic, who was sought after by Arsenal last year, has only made one substitute appearance at the World Cup. Recent reports in Serbia have suggested that Vlahovic’s lack of playing time is due to an affair with the wife of Serbia’s backup goalkeeper, Predrag Rajkovic. However, ahead of Serbia’s final group game against Switzerland, Vlahovic denied the rumors as “absurd.”

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5. Host Selection Bribery Allegations

Before the World Cup of 2010, FIFA started looking for potential hosts for the tournament of 2018 and 2022. All non-UEFA countries forfeited from the bid after a unanimous agreement between them so they were not counted for the 2022 World Cup. In the running were countries like South Korea, Australia, Japan, the United States, and of course, Qatar.

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Serious bribery allegations were made against FIFA when Qatar snatched the bid in 2010. A whistleblower by the name of Phaedra Almajid said that African officials took off with $1.5 million in bribes in exchange for a vote for Qatar. Even though the officials vehemently protested, more statements in 2014 further solidified his claims. A few more severe questions were raised by bigger media outlets.

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4. Sting and Revelation

An England-based news outlet, The Sunday Times, has shared a number of tantalizing information that has led to the formation of grave allegations. Apparently, in 2015, the then President of the AFC, Bin Hammam had bribed officials of FIFA with $5 million and issued an ex-CIA agent to keep an eye on the involved individuals.

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Moreover, they claimed that Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news outlet agreed to a secret contract with FIFA a month prior to the bidding process. The contract granted Al-Jazeera permission to broadcast the 2022 World Cup for $400 million in fees. From this, $100 million will be paid only if the host of the tournament is Qatar. Al-Jazeera also promised to pay FIFA $480 million from the government due to the hosting contract.

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3. Qatar’s Credibility Questioned

The moment Qatar was announced as the official host of the 2022 World Cup, the entire football community reacted blandly. They had placed 113 when they secured the hosting rights and are yet to win a continental competition. They simply did not seem apt to appoint them the host. This is the first time a World Cup event will be hosted by a country that has never qualified for the tournament in the first place.

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In addition, Qatar’s playing conditions aren’t favorable either. The Middle-east is known to be extremely humid, and it can be expected that the footballers will struggle to cope with the scorching heat while on the field. Set to start in November, the competition will witness a higher-than-average temperature. Europe’s normal club football cycle will also be impacted by the World Cup.

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2. Human Rights Violation

For a competition that hasn’t even started yet, the 2022 FIFA World Cup has raised eyebrows all around. But perhaps the most sensitive and serious allegation about Qatar is the country’s disregard for workers’ rights. Some eyewitnesses and reports say that workers have been pushed to the brink of slavery by the Qatar government, claiming it falls under the “Kafala System” to raise their infrastructure for the huge celebration.

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Naturally, the Qatari government refuted such allegations. Some independent investigations by organizations and media outlets have shown how workers are kept as prisoners and exploited, cutting off their contact with the rest of the world. It was somewhat of an open secret after the Nepalese ambassador defined the situation as an “Open Jail” for the workers.

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1. Boycott Campaign

Former players, current players, and football fans alike have expressed their disappointment at how Qatar has continued to violate human rights simply to host an event. Teams like Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands showed up in human rights T-shirts for their qualifier stages, protesting the country’s inhuman treatment of workers.

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Former players such as Philipp Lahm have commented openly on the situation, calling out the officials. He emphasized that human rights should be the biggest concern of any authority. If a country that performs poorly in this regard gets the contract, then FIFA should reconsider its decision about the selection criterion. He ended the statement by saying how FIFA’s decision did not consider human rights, the size of the country, or sustainability.