By Deji Olukotun

You may have pinched yourself to see if you were dreaming after watching Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the World Cup semifinals. But it happened. Bloggers from the Middle East and North Africa expressed their sympathy, with one Bahraini Twitter user wryly noting that the “Tear Gas” team was leaving in a “scandalous manner.” He was referring to the government of Bahrain’s violent use of Brazilian tear gas [warning, link contains graphic content] to stop protests.

Brazil will receive a minimum of $20 million for its semifinal run in the World Cup, but the team still has an opportunity to win an extra $2 million if it defeats Holland in the third place game. This money may be sorely needed to make changes to its soccer association.

Protests continued in the country, but not at the same scale as the lead-up to the tournament. Some 300 protesters in the city of São Paulo turned out to demand the release of previous demonstrators, but the police merely responded by arresting six more. Most fans traveling to Brazil will not hear any baile funk music, which has been banned because of its popularity in favelas and its racy sounds, which often feature police sirens and gunshots.

Argentina fans, meanwhile, can rejoice because they will have an opportunity to watch their team play against Germany in the final. Lionel Messi, one of the all-time greats, will play side-by-side with heartthrob Ezekiel Lavezzi, who has attracted a few hundred thousand fans after stripping off his shirt in a victory celebration.

With racism, it seems more is less. The global soccer body FIFA has revealed internal divisions about its commitment to crack down on racism at the tournament. The FIFA discplinary panel ruled against sanctioning national federations whose fans’ chanted racist and homophobic slurs, rationalizing that the chants targeted entire teams, not individual players.  The decision drew strong public criticism from FIFA’s new Task Force Against Racism.

Preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have already been marred by reports of as many as 400 Nepalese and 700 Indian construction workers dying in conditions that can approach 122 degrees (50 degrees Celsius). However, journalism professor Justin Martin argues that the tournament should still be staged in Qatar because it will allow for sustained pressure on the country to improve its human rights record. Martin is also the co-author of one of the most comprehensive studies on social attitudes towards media in the Middle East, which you can read on this interactive website. The survey was funded by the Qatar Foundation—the same organization that sponsors FC Barcelona, home of Lionel Messi. The foundation is itself funded in part by the government of Qatar. Still following? You be the referee.

Sports pundits often talk about how they love to watch free-flowing soccer. At PEN, we’re going to cheer for the free flow of ideas in the final. May the best team win.


Many thanks Cassandra da Costa for her contributions to this post.