(older) Love and Truth 

How should Christians respond to the World Cup in Qatar?

This post was published on Wednesday 23 November 2022.

A few people in our church family have been talking about whether or not we should boycott watching the World Cup.  In this case, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, except that we each follow our conscience, make sure we know why we’ve made the decision we make, but most importantly: pray.  If Qatar is covered in a wave of global prayer because they hosted the World Cup, what a difference that could make!  It won’t wipe away previous injustices, but it could stop the same things happening many times over in the future.

Christians in Sport have published a helpful article here, and these are my thoughts.

There is no easy answer to watching or boycotting the World Cup in Qatar – because in this case I don’t think there is a right answer.

Paul wrote to the Romans about eating meat sacrificed to idols: ‘Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God’ (Romans 14.6, NIV).  And to the Corinthians about the same issue: ‘whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10.31, NIV).  But, he says, ‘flee from idolatry’ (1 Corinthians 10.14, NIV); it’s not that ‘anything goes’, but that in some situations godly Christians will make opposite decisions – and that’s ok.

So, whatever choice we make, how can we make sure we are doing it ‘for the glory of God’?

1. Whether you watch or not: find out about what’s going on in Qatar

For example, Open Doors has information on its website: Qatar has jumped 11 places on the World Watch List this year alone.  Use that information to pray for the nation, and for our Qatari Christian sisters and brothers, many of whom are also migrant workers.  Pray that through being more aware of what’s going on, more people would campaign for change.

2. Whether you watch or not: know why you’ve made that choice

It’s a hot topic right now, and could spark a really interesting question with your non-Christian friends or family members about your faith and how it can apply to everyday life and situations.  I hope it’s obvious, but saying, ‘I’m watching because I love football and don’t really care about what happens in another country’ is not a godly answer!  Paul says: ‘One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike.  Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind’ (Romans 14.5, NIV).

3. Whether you watch or not: respect those who make a different choice

Don’t look down on them because you think they are ‘pious’, or because you think they are ‘uncaring’.  Ask them why, listen, have a grown-up conversation.  Watching the World Cup does not mean that someone supports unfettered use of fossil fuels, abuse of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people, bribery and corruption – all of which Qatar is accused of.

This issue is important, but it is not what is most important: ‘The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17, NIV).  Let us not condemn one another because we make different choices, but ‘make every effort to do what leads to peace’ (Romans 14.19, NIV).

4. Whether you watch or not: don’t be a hypocrite

In the gospels, few things angered Jesus more than hypocrisy.  The UK is no angel, and Qatar is not the devil.  Don’t pretend they or their leaders are worse than we are – they are simply differently bad, because all people everywhere are damaged and broken by sin.

The world is complicated, and it is full of mess, abuse, and worse.  We should certainly strive to make ethical choices when choosing what to do, watch, or purchase – but that is not always possible, especially during a cost of living crisis.  Do we only buy high welfare animal products?  Did we refuse to watch the World Cup in Russia, or the Winter Olympics in Beijing (not being interested in sport doesn’t count!)?  What about our favourite electronic devices (including our TVs) – almost certainly made with components manufactured in China?  We have – rightly – been falling over ourselves to help Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees – but what about Syria and Syrian refugees (to give only one recent example)?

5. Whether you watch or not: pray that Jesus would be known and glorified

Pray that people would find what they need most of all – not for their country to win the World Cup (though that would be nice!) or even for a perfect government – but Jesus.  We all need forgiveness, for different things, and we can all receive forgiveness, whatever we have done, at the foot of the cross.  God’s power can bring life out of death and his love is stronger than death – so he can certainly bring good out of the World Cup being hosted in Qatar.

We will be showing matches at church – and we will also continue to pray for justice, and for Jesus’ name to be known.  You don’t have to join in watching the matches at church – but whether you watch or not, please join in those prayers.

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’  Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.’ ... He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22.17, 20 (NIV)