Illustration by Tuesday Hadden
“Give me a final exam which is 80% of my grade, and I’m watching a Brazil game,” sophomore Miguel Verani said.  Then, he corrected himself:  “No, I’m joking of course. But I’ll have to plan it out.”
During one of the most demanding and rigorous times of the academic year, Verani —an economics major with a father born in Brazil— is one of many Washington University students who, despite having midterm and final exams stacked up against him, is excited to watch and welcome the most iconic sporting event to the WashU campus: the FIFA World Cup tournament. 
“I’m here for the cup,” he said. “The World Cup happens once every four years. I’m in college for four years, so I’m only going to see it once and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
It is not just Verani who is ready to go all out for the World Cup games; there are others, like Parker Maier. A native of  Fort Lauderdale, Florida and a Political Science major, Maier’s father is from Hamburg, Germany. And as he has done all his life since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Maier is ready to root for the Germany national team, with or without his father.
“If I have to watch [Germany] during class and have to pull up my computer, then so be it,” said Maier. “If I have to skip a class because Germany is playing, I’m going to make that sacrifice. The World Cup is once every four years for a month. I think I can miss a class and be fine.”
After a four-year hiatus, the FIFA World Cup returns again to the global stage. This year, Qatar, a country in the Middle East, won the rights to host the tournament despite controversy regarding working conditions, homophobic statements, and corruption in preparation for the tournament. But after a year of qualification efforts from countries all around the globe, 32 teams travel to Doha with hopes of winning one of sports most cherished prizes: the FIFA World Cup gold trophy. Normally, the World Cup is played in the summer. However, due to Qatar’s extreme heat, the tournament was moved to this winter, during a period where many college students are still in school. 
With family and cultural ties to the many countries participating in the tournament, for a lot of WashU students, the tournament matches will be more than just games. For many, they are an opportunity to return home, both literally and figuratively. WashU students are excited to be watching their country compete, all while trying to catch up on all the Organic Chemistry and Calculus III lectures they’ve missed, in preparation for both midterm and finals exams. 
“I grew up in Mexico, and football is like a whole culture there,” said sophomore student Ilan Tussieh. “Essentially, you can just assume that anyone in Mexico is watching soccer and supports the national team. When the World Cup comes around, it’s a very cool time because everyone is rooting for the same team.”
A prominent supporter of Mexico soccer, Tussief has spent much of his life watching his native country compete at the highest level of soccer. Watching them play in Qatar won’t be his first time.
 “My earliest memory of [Mexico] is in the 2010 World Cup,” he said. “The first game they played was vs South Africa. I had school that day, but they basically canceled classes and everyone still went to school to watch  the game up on a huge screen, in a huge room. It was a lot of fun, but they tied one-one. But everyone went nuts when Mexico scored.”
And what a game it was. Despite the tie, Mexico conceded one of the most iconic World Cup goals of all time. Playing in his home turf, South Africa’s winger Siphiwe Tshabalala ignited a nation and a continent with a thunderbolt in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup to send South Africans in the City Soccer Stadium into chaos in a din of vuvuzelas. It was a goal for South Africa, but in the first FIFA tournament to be hosted on the soil of Africa, it was a goal for every kid in cities and villages all over the continent.
Despite Tussieh enthusiasm and anticipation of the Mexico national team, he’s not optimistic that the team will do well. Currently, Mexico is in Group C of the World Cup, where they will be competing with the likes of Argentina (the favorites to win it all, according EA Sports simulation), Poland, and Saudi Arabia for a spot in the knockout stage of the tournament. 
“They suck,” he said. “This is probably the worst team that they have ever sent to the World Cup.”
It is not just Tussieh: many WashU students are excited about this tournament and watching their team compete in it, but not many are optimistic about their countries progressing far enough to have a shot at the title.
“Ecuador is not really known for making it past the First Round,” said sophomore Estella Velacis, a Mechanical Engineering major in the McKelvey School of Engineering. “You know, I could watch it like the first few games, if they make it past the first round, but we’ll see.”
“I have very mixed feelings about where the US is going into this tournament,” said junior student Matt Singer. “They have not really played all that well in about a year. There were those two friendlies that they just played in September against Japan and Saudi Arabia, and they looked absolutely dreadful. The Saudi Arabia game was especially awful. Saudi Arabia is not a team advancing out of the World Cup. I’m nervous about the US.”
But unlike Velacis and Singer, there are those who are confident in their respective countries to be able to make a deep run in the tournament, and possibly, win the whole thing.
Amsatou Mbacke spent her childhood in Senegal and will be supporting the Senegalese soccer team during the World Cup. (Photo by Holden Hindeµs | Student Life)
Amsatou Mbacke is a student in the College of Arts & Sciences studying Biochemistry and African and African American Studies, and potentially minoring in French. A native of St. Louis, Mbacke spent much of her childhood living in Senegal, where her parents are from and where her love for the Senegalese men’s soccer team began
“I definitely feel like we have a lot of potential to get out of the group stage,” said Mbacke. “We have a lot of good players like Gana Gueye who plays for Everton. And we have Koulibaly who plays for Chelsea. We have other players who are in like a lot of great groups and clubs in Europe.”
A native of St. Louis, Mbacke is excited to watch the first half of the games in her home city. But later in the tournament when students leave for winter break, she’s excited to be returning back home to Senegal, where she hopes the team will still be alive late in the tournament to watch it with family and friends.
“I was born in St. Louis, Missouri,” she said. “But at the age of like 10 or 11, I went to Senegal and I went to school there. I lived there for about five or six years, and I came back to the US, junior year of high school to finish my education and go to college.”
Living in Senegal, Mbacke fell in love with her parents’ home country, but more specifically, she fell in love with her home country’s football community. As a young girl in Africa, Mbacke recalls many community events that were sponsored for the sake of bringing her entire neighborhood together to support Senegal.
“Whenever I’m in Senegal and there’s a game, people in the neighborhood that I lived in would all gather,” said Mbacke. “We would get together at someone’s house and we would drink tea or eat something and then we would watch the game together. Actually here in St. Louis, we have a Young Senegalese association. So during the African Cup of Nations, for example, we like to find the time to get together and watch the games. We like to make Jollof rice, papaya and bagels and everything so we can eat as we watch the games. We drink coffee and watch together with all our [Senegalese] jerseys.”
To Mbacke, it is this togetherness about the country of Senegal that will see the team advance far in the tournament. But even more than that, it’s Senegal’s past history in this tournament that will make the reigning champions of the African Cup of Nations a formidable opponent for other countries to face.
“We’re a good team,” she said. “But I feel like with this World Cup, this is a very big thing for Senegal, especially because of what happened in 2002. In the 2002 World Cup, we got to the quarterfinals where we played Turkey and lost one to zero. I wasn’t even born yet. But I know that it always gets brought up in conversations whenever we’re talking about soccer and the history of soccer. Yeah, so I really hope that we can relieve the feeling we had in 2002.”
The 2002 Senegal World Cup team is considered to be one of the greatest African World Cup national teams. After advancing far into the tournament, not many other countries on the continent have been able to replicate their success. The only country besides Africa to advance all the way to the quarter finals is the 2010 Ghana World Cup national team that shocked the world when they nearly defeated the South American giants Uruguay.
It’s not just Mbacke with Senegal. Verani believes Brazil is flying to Qatar to take the gold trophy.
Verani flies the Brazilian flag proudly; he believes they will bring home the 2022 trophy. (Photo by Madi Hermeyer | Student Life)
“I think the Brazilian team in any World Cup is going to have the quality to win it,” he said. “I think it has to be up to the chemistry between the players, which they didn’t have last World Cup and then it has to be up to the manager being flexible, which they also didn’t have last World Cup.”
While many WashU students are supporting countries that they have a clear family or cultural connection to, others are supporting countries that they have no relation to. Out of 195 countries in the world, only 32 countries will be competing. 
Ana Mena is one of those students. She is double majoring in Computer Science and Economics in the College of Arts & Sciences. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Mena grew up in Colombia before she moved to the US, where soccer was a huge part of her identity. But due to the fact that Colombia didn’t qualify for this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar, Anna is choosing to root for Brazil instead.
“Having lived in Colombia the first few years of my life, soccer was always like a big thing,” she said. “Everybody’s always wearing the Columbian jersey. Colombia and Brazil are pretty similar in a lot of ways and I would say like a lot of other Colombian people I know are also running for Brazil, just because of the similarities in our culture. But also like Brazil, it’s a pretty good team.”
While a lot of people are angry about the fact that Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup, thus having it in the wintertime due to the country’s hot temperatures, there are some benefits. For many WashU students, while tournament games will be played during school time, the first few games will be played during Thanksgiving break, when most people will be back home with their families. 
So for the first time ever, the Thanksgiving arguments will likely not be about the current state of politics in America, but about the US possibly choking a penalty and dropping out of the tournament. 
“My family and I are really into [soccer] when the World Cup comes,” said Velacis. “But I feel like most people are also really into it once the World Cup comes. So I’d say we watch a lot of football back home and whatnot. So I’m excited to go back home [for Thanksgiving and watch games with them].”
But while WashU students are excited about this year’s World Cup, they are concerned about the Qatar human rights issue.
Qatar was awarded the rights to host the 2010 World Cup over the United States, a decision that many believed came out of FIFA corruption. But it’s not just the corruption that went into making the 2022 World Cup the first FIFA tournament to be hosted in the Middle East: it’s the human rights violations that went into building all the stadiums that games will be played in.
The push to host the World Cup for Qatar isn’t only out of the love of the beautiful game. After spending years preparing for the tournament, Qatar sees the World Cup as an opportunity to elevate its position on the global stage and boost its tourism economy.
“This World Cup I think is morally and completely reprehensible,” said Singer. “I’ve watched and I’ve read a lot of stuff about the human rights abuses in the lead up to this. I’ve watched a couple of documentaries and whatnot, and it’s worse than I thought. It’s slavery in all but name. But we know why they did it. They did this because they want to grow their image to the Qatari. They want to make their country more than just this oil kingdom. They want to be like one of the centers, one of the great stations on the planet. But I just hope that when people in this country and around the world engage with this webcast, I hope that there’s enough coverage of all those abuses. The pressure [needs to] stays on Qatar so that when it all comes down and everyone packs up and goes home, it doesn’t fall back into slavery. That would be a real, real travesty.”
But it’s just not just WashU students. Many of the teams competing in the tournament are protesting FIFA’s decision to give the Middle Eastern country the rights to host the World Cup. In late September this year, the Denmark national team released several World Cup kits, protesting the country’s human rights violations.
The black jersey prototype is “the colour of mourning,” said Hummel, the kit manufacturer. “While we support the Danish national team all the way, this shouldn’t be confused with support for a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives.” 
Due to not having the infrastructure to host the tournament, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is the most expensive FIFA tournament in the history of the game. The country spent around $220 billion in preparation, but are expected to only make an astonishing $4.7 billion in revenue.
But it’s more than just human rights violations. To others like Maier, the Germany fan, Qatar should not have been awarded hosting duties due to the fact that historically speaking, the World Cup has always been in the summer. 
“I am not a fan of the [human right violations],” said Maier. “I think it was terrible that FIFA awarded Qatar the rights to host in the first place. Qatar is one of the hottest places in the world, in my understanding, and the players themselves are in danger just by being there because it is so hot. But great, you’re having the games at night so it’s not so hot. But why are we there in the first place? They have to change the time of the World Cup because it’s too hot. That’s why it’s November instead of July, which is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. They changed the time and changed the dates so that there’s a terrible Dark Deal [could take place]. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
So much is on the line this winter. From people’s pre-med dreams to countries crushing out of the World Cup, there’s so much to play for. But regardless, WashU students are excited for this rare opportunity to watch one of the greatest— if not the greatest— sporting events of all time on the global screen. They are excited to root for their countries and spend some quality time with family and friends, during one of the most stressful times in the academic calendar.  
“In this era of increasing division in this country, people are more divided than we have been,” said Singer. “But for a month, for this period of time, it does feel really nice to just watch everyone kind of come together for something that doesn’t matter. But we make it matter better because we love it.”
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