In This Episode
Tommy and Rog examine a tournament in which politics, sport and humanity have all been laid bare; USMNT captain Tyler Adams’ leadership and poise when answering questions from Iran’s state-run media; and what political and social scrutiny the United States could face as co-host for the 2026 World Cup.
Roger Bennett: Politics, history, basic humanity are spilling out everywhere in these games.
[clip of Milad Javanmardi]: Are you okay to be representing the US? Meanwhile, there’s so much discrimination happening against Black people in America.
[clip of Tyler Adams]: One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years, and is that in the US where we’re continuing to make progress every single day.
Tommy Vietor: Through the 2026 World Cup, I just hope that our response as a nation is to realize that we’re not above reproach and to deal with criticism more like Tyler Adams than FIFA. [music break] Welcome back to World Corrupt, a podcast about the 2022 World Cup in the only obvious place [laugh] to host such a tournament. Qatar. I am thrilled to say that your ears are listening to a podcast that has gone into stoppage time. Yes, this is the seventh episode of what was supposed to be a six part mini series. Yes, it’s true, Rog. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to you, buddy.
Roger Bennett: I don’t wanna close my eyes [laughter] and I don’t wanna fall sleep. Because I miss you, Thomas. Oh, and I don’t wanna— By the way, how have, you know, not changed your name officially to Tommy John— [laughter]
Tommy Vietor: I don’t know. Good question.
Roger Bennett: —surrounding purposes. That’s how deep we are in the World Cup. Action. Little bit dothy. Little bit dizzy. Christian Pulisic, you’re a god. Among men. Born in a manger, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Was his goal against Iran the single greatest use of American nut since General McAuliffe at Bastogne, Tommy?
Tommy Vietor: [laughter] Okay. So I had to Google this one. [laughter] General McAuliffe listeners, is famous in Army circles for replying with just one word to a German demand that he surrender. That word was nuts. [laughter] Inspiring stuff, Rog. But I know that if General McAuliffe can survive the Battle of the Bulge, then Christian Pulisic’s bulge can make it through this one. But I digress. Incredible performance. [laughter] By Christian in the US men’s team and their win over Iran, but we’ll get to that in good time. And speaking of not getting ahead of ourselves, as I said earlier, this is the seventh episode in our series. If it’s your first time listening, we are thrilled to have you, but we would highly recommend you go back to the beginning to hear about FIFA’s history, their corruption, Qatar’s atrocious human rights record, and the many, many other reasons Qatar should not be hosting the World Cup. And then what teams, players and fans like us can all do about it.
Roger Bennett: But today, in this stoppage time special, which likely won’t last as long as I have to say this, the extraordinarily random and enormous amounts of stoppage time referees are just adlibbing at this World Cup. We’re going to talk about the World Cup coverage, how Qatar has fared as a team in this competition. Spoiler alert, not good. [laughter] And also as a host, spoiler alert, not good at all and the political process free for all it’s emerged as a result, as the tournament rumbles on, the on and off the field competition between the United States and Iran will briefly ponder what it will feel like when the world’s eyes are trained on the United States. When we host the 2026 World Cup, along with Mexico and Canada in just four years time. Tommy, a lot to get through. Are you ready?
Tommy Vietor: I’m ready. Eager, even like Cristiano Ronaldo, ready to grab a bag of cash from the Saudi government. [laughter] But enough about that. If we had any more topics, Rog, we will have to record a penalty kick episode.
Roger Bennett: And if it does go into penalties, I’ve got some news for you, Thomas. The Germans, they’ll inevitably win.
Tommy Vietor: Nein! Okay, back to business then. So. [laughter] Roger has been strapped—
Roger Bennett: German Tommy, German Tommy is probably not one of my top ten favorite Tommys I got to tell you, like that took me by surprise that nein.
Tommy Vietor: So Rog as you can tell who’s list we’re watching him. He’s been strapped to a TV like the guy in A Clockwork Orange since this tournament started. [laughter] And has seen every game. And again, Rog, I’m amazed at your stamina. I know what it’s like down there in the podcast content mines. The casual listener probably looks at us. They see what we do and they think, that’s not hard. You know what? And they’re right. But those Men in Blazers live shows, I know they take a lot of energy and preparation, so I salute you from here. My ability to feast on football, though, was helped enormously by the Thanksgiving week timing. It has gotten to the point where Hannah, my beautiful wife, officially finds it annoying or finds me annoying. [laughter] How’s it all going in your house, Rog?
Roger Bennett: That’s my house. I have not really seen a lot of. We have been on tour. We are going from sea to shining sea. We’re in the middle of a coast to coast tour we were in. I can’t even remember. The cities are all wonderful is like Philadelphia, DC. I think I was just in Austin for several days. We’re headed to Nashville any minute now. Atlanta, Los Angeles. We’re coming for you. And it is a bit insane, the tour aspect. It’s like we’re like a band on the road, which is grueling in itself, but we are like a band on the road. And because we’re responding immediately to the on the field, the off the field, the football, the geopolitics in real time. We’re like a band who is writing a new album every bloody night but the energy, the different cultures, the remarkable cities, just the passion, the joy is what is driving us at this moment. And I will say America is has most certainly got a and I’m not a doctor, but I diagnose a nasty case of World Cup fever, which is just a joy. It’s like a wave that we’re surfing. And I do fail. You ask me how my house. How is it my house? I’ve been here for a couple of hours. I got home at 1:00 last night. My dog, Martin Scorsese, [laugh] welcomed me home alone. At 1:00 AM he did a massive crap in his cage. It was really neat. The hero’s welcome. [laughter] But I’m now legally married to the World Cup. I even had the Universal Life Church minister do the honors and everything. Luckily my partner Vanessa is proper football. She has watched her fair share as have all my four children. The tours meant that they’re able to do so in the right spirit, which sports meant to be enjoyed and not with me screaming at the television and changing my soiled Tommy Johns several times a game. I’m not too proud to admit it started with a pre-game if I’m being honest Tommy.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, I think I’m actually an ordained Universal Life Minister myself. I did a wedding once. Anyway enough about me. I have not watched a lot of the pre or game on Fox, Rog, in part because I don’t want to catch a case of Alexi Lalas. [laughter] But what what have you made of the coverage so far? It’s been a touch controversial.
Roger Bennett: And it has been a touch controversial. And you know, what’s troubled me the most about it is not so much the way Fox have treated the political portion of the competition. But really the fact that they have not covered it at all. And it was Ben Strauss at The Washington Post he he wrote a piece right before the World Cup where he reported that Fox would not touch anything geopolitical. And ultimately, he uncovered that they were doing it for a reason. Reason being Qatar Airways. Yes. Qatar, a state owned airline, stepped up to serve as a major, major sponsor of the network’s coverage. In fact, made sure they had enough money to actually take the broadcast over to Qatar, where we’re going to do it, I think, from L.A. So essentially our American broadcast content is being underwritten by the Qatari government itself. So Fox have chosen to completely ignore anything, anything, even tangentially connected to the geopolitical stories, even even the ones that are undeniably and intrinsically linked to the football itself. None of the human rights stories, the arm band wars, or even the United States and Iran having such an insane international fracas ahead of their game, which we will discuss where press conferences became conversations about race and inflation in America and Fox’s reporters would do these eerie instant reactions where they airbrushed out any disharmony? You wouldn’t even know anything was going on. Instead, they’ve kind of chosen to feed this up a steady diet of, and I crap, you not, falconry. Yeah. [laughter] Where, where they go, they go to great lengths where they they go watch falcons training, what they training and training killing. But then a voiceover comes in and says we assure you no prey was hurt in the making of these films for real. You know, it’s very important to us that the falcons prey does not get hurt. But we won’t mention the thousands of foreign workers who’ve died to make the whole football thing go off. Isn’t this how Pravda in the old Soviet Union used to work?
Tommy Vietor: It’s got some Pravda vibes. Yeah, it sounds like the falcons were just like playing tag in the desert with the little creatures they impale with their talons that’s how—
Roger Bennett: [speaking in silly voice] I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to kill you.
Tommy Vietor: So I, Rog, I admittedly had very low expectations for Fox. That was because David Neal, the executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage, told journalists back in October that he viewed issues like Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers to be, quote, “ancillary to the story of the tournament” and said they would not be part of Fox’s coverage. I did not, though, expect them to veer into literal infomercial territory. I was waiting for these guys to start trying out different types of blenders or Juice-O-Matics or whatever. [laughter] Fox—
Roger Bennett: ShamWow! [laughter]
Tommy Vietor: The ShamWow. Fox has been getting a lot of grief for one softball interview one of their hosts did with Hassan Al-Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar’s World Cup Supreme Committee. Topics in the interview included. Thank you for this beautiful set. [laughter] Mr. Secretary General. I wish I was kidding. The Washington Post, as you mentioned, they reported on this sweetheart sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways. As you highlighted last week. All of this stands in really stark contrast to some of the great coverage you’ve seen. The BBC has done a great job. Friend of the show, Tariq Panja, continues to report on the plight of migrant workers in his coverage for The New York Times. I know Telemundo said they were going to cover these these off the field issues. So Fox’s coverage aside, though, Roger, I have been pleasantly surprised at just how much airtime the issues around Qatar’s human rights records got into the run up, at least in the U.S. I get the sense people I talked to, it seems like there’s a widespread understanding that Qatar was a bad choice to host this tournament for a variety of reasons.
Roger Bennett: But even for those outlets that are watching it closely, that coverage of Qatar’s human rights issues has cooled considerably. As the games have kicked in, the competition has ratcheted up. The story of Messi is now Messi-ing. Ronaldo’s now Ronaldo-ing and also Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA. He stopped Gianni Infantino-ing and you may remember him less as we talked about him a lot on this show. The gentleman who looks like he was just plucked fresh from an open casting call for suspected criminal masterminds who could play the next James Bond movie. He, of the insane, rambling, epic open speech. The place where what-about-ism meets verbal diarrhea? [laughter] Surely you remember this dear, listeners?
[clip of Gianni Infantino]: Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.
Roger Bennett: So Gianni Infantino. He’s quite the showman, quite likes a spotlight. And he was everywhere over the first couple of days of the World Cup. But since shooting himself firmly in the foot [?] red head, freckled bastard. He’s gone to ground. [laughter] And he’s been eerily silent or been silenced.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah. Smartest thing he’s done.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, but what is meant is there’s been nothing to rage against. Even the International Olympic Committee. When you say those words. Even the International Olympic Committee, even they give regular briefings during the Olympics, FIFA have gone utterly radio silent. And I also think there’s a moment we talked about last week when the German national team played their opening game against Japan and the players lined up in their traditional formation for that pre-game photograph. And as the camera was about to click. All 11 players covered their mouths with their right hands in a coordinated gesture. Their coach, Hansi Flick, later said it was a sign from the team from us that FIFA is muzzling us. And there was one problem. The team went and lost, a shock result, two one. And rather to be applauded by their home fans for for stepping up in the moment. The act drew an incredibly mixed response. Viewing figures, it should be said, have been incredibly low and usually low in Germany. There are a lot of fans in the German football, the Bundesliga. In the run up, you may remember a huge number of banners boycott Qatar, huge demand among the hardcore fans for their team not to go. So from their perspective, the gesture was too late and an empty one because they were playing and they shouldn’t have been. And then there was an element of society that was just saying, Oh my God, you did it. You did the gesture, and you lost.
Tommy Vietor: Mm hmm.
Roger Bennett: And I don’t know how you say shut up and dribble in German [attemps to speak German]. So whatever it was, it was shouted loud aggressively. So aggressively. The German star Ilkay Gundogan, who’s an incredibly thoughtful bloke, he quickly announced, quote, “The politics are finished and that from now on the team will just focus on the football and celebrating.” And that loss only served as a cautionary tale as it did for Denmark. You may remember them listeners, they have the monotone jersey. Well, they said we’d mark the fact that we we want to play a World Cup but not in Qatar. They too crapped the bed, two impotent losses they got their wish bounced out of the tournament, leaving a lot of their fans wondering if the players were just totally distracted. So especially as we entered this Squid Games-esque portion of the group stages where teams start to be eliminated, the players become locked into their football. And football only Tommy, and they’re still, you know, off the field flare ups of Qatar’s never ending war on the rainbow. Damn you, rainbow, you artificially non-natural thing. But the footballers, they’ve gone completely [?]
Tommy Vietor: Being mad at rainbows, I think, is comically funny to me. [laughter] I like who’s next? Right. Sunsets, fjords.
Roger Bennett: It’s how we lost the unicorns. [laughter]
Tommy Vietor: It’s right. The unicorn vote has gone, I think, on Wednesday of this week. So the day before we’re recording this, FIFA, who are nothing, if not experts at comedic timing, [laugh] finally gave a public assurance that rainbow items and banners supporting protests in Iran will be allowed into stadiums just in the nick of time. For all those fans who have been harassed by the Qatari security forces.
Roger Bennett: Can I giggle then? Because we laugh or else we cry. Iran play games. And there were just so many fans trying to bring Persian flags in and bring in Women, Life, Freedom flags in and the Qatari security cracked down on all of them. And while I’m sure because I’ve tried to be a good hearted person, believe in people, that the announcement was intended to go out before the tournament, it just got stuck in Gianni’s inbox. I hit send.
Tommy Vietor: Right.
Roger Bennett: But I must have had no service. I’m so sorry. It’s a laughable gesture because almost the moment Iran went out one week into the tournament, the fans will actually have no chance to show their banners, to parade their slogans to the world because their national team will not kick a football again at this tournament.
Tommy Vietor: I really did feel for those Iranian players, and we’ll get to that game in a bit. But speaking of teams that were eliminated, the very first to meet that fate, Rog, was Qatar, I believe. Now, is that is that a good showing or a bad showing for a host country?
Roger Bennett: [laughter] Is that a leading question your honor?
Tommy Vietor: You tell me.
Roger Bennett: Oh, Tommy. They were. Qatar were the first team to be kicked out the tournament. How do I put this? After they’d only gone to spend over $220 billion to host the tournament in the first place and chipped in over 2 billion more into developing elite football players in a hothouse laboratory. I mean, scientifically loaded Youth Development Academy, it’s called the Aspire Academy. We talked about it in episode three about the Qatar request to build the Qatari Messi. I think the emphasis was more on the Qatari part than the Messi part. By the way they played that you were simply awful, losing all three games. It was the single worst performance by a host nation in the history of the World Cup. By the way, in the game, when they got beat for the third time against the Netherlands in a half empty stadium. Fox made absolutely no mention that this was the single worst and fastest elimination by a host nation in the tournament’s history, because, again, that line undermines their right to host the bloody thing in the first place. They just kept saying, what a good showing. They’re only two nil down right now. That’s really impressive with the kind of line that they tell. I watched it and I was just like, oh my God, My Pillow commercials are less of an infomercial than the coverage at sometimes.
Tommy Vietor: Look at least the pillow is useful. I’m not sure you can say the same for Alexi Lalas’ power rankings. [laughter] Sorry, Alexi. I really did cheer for you back in the day. And by the way, Roger, $220 billion spent by the Qatari government. By the way, the pay up FIFA campaign, which is asking FIFA to set aside or the Qatari government to set aside $440 million to help all these workers who were hurt could be paid 100 times over with that amount of money. It’s absurd. They could solve all of their political problems just by helping those folks out. But anyway, the Qatari Maroon were so bad, as you mentioned, that many of their own fans left games early and The New York Times’s James Montague, which sounds like a 15th century French philosopher that I failed to read in college.
Roger Bennett: He is, he is. [both speaking] How long have you been working here? Since the 15th century, it’s changed a little bit.
Tommy Vietor: Just a touch. He reported that Qatar’s most vocal fans, their ultras, as they’re known, were bused in from Lebanon. Now, that is embarrassing, Rog. What is an ultra and why did Qatar have to import them?
Roger Bennett: It’s actually an amazing story. Again, we laugh because if we didn’t laugh, we would weep. Ultras are hardcore football fans who live and die, follow a team, sing for the team. You have the team’s crest tattooed on their person, think essentially football’s equivalent to the Bills Mafia. And these diehard fans, their whole life revolves around football in general and their team in particular.
Tommy Vietor: I love Bill’s Mafia. I hope the the ultras do elbow drops, the folding table tables like the guys up in Buffalo. Rog, are you the lead Everton ultra?
Roger Bennett: Tommy, I’m probably about 150 pounds and a tummy tattoo away from being considered an Everton ultra.
Tommy Vietor: I don’t know that a Tracy Chapman tattoo is going to do it. That’s not going to cut it for you here. [laughter]
Roger Bennett: Oh, mate, you should see when I’m about to get into a fight the game, and I just lift up my shirt and they see the shirt that Tracy Chapman first album cover tattooed on my belly the way they quake and charge away in fear. But this is not about me. This is about Qatar. It’s lack of fans. It’s lack of a footballing tradition, which we’ve talked about throughout the show. They don’t have these types of fans. There is not a Qatar and the word ultra do not go together and they do not go together for a reason because they’re all bona fide football fans in Qatar for sure. A few. And football, if you ask yourself, is it woven into the fabric of society in such a way that they have these type of fans that you do in other countries? Absolutely not. And the reason for it is actually fascinating and I’m not sure if you’ve heard Tommy, but Qatar, they’ve got an oppressive regime in their way of running things.
Tommy Vietor: I did. I heard I heard that a little bit.
Roger Bennett: Don’t know if you knew that TV.
Tommy Vietor: Read that somewhere.
Roger Bennett: They see the songs crafted on the bleachers in football made nations like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco with Lebanon. They see them as a threat not just to football, but they see to their very standing because the football fans have chants that have often been the soundtracks to anti-government protest. And so often football fandom is deeply connected to uncontrollable revolution, to uncontrollable dissent. And because Qatar wants to squash these movements before they occur, they are a nation that simply will not tolerate any kind of organized football fandom.
Tommy Vietor: And in fairness, right, there’s not that many people in Qatar to begin with. So maybe the lack of support is explainable or understandable, which is, I’m sure, what the Qatari government did per usual. They were open, they were candid. They admitted to the world that they’re paying off these folks. There is transparency, right.
Roger Bennett: Close, Tommy. Instead, the New York Times reporter sounds like a 15th century French philosopher. He realized that in watching Qatar’s first game, where there really were there was probably like a thousand fans all wearing the same shirt, a maroon colored shirt with Qatar in English and Arabic. And they were so passionate and they were so organized and they chanted. And long after all the other Qatari fans had left, they kept bringing it. And he noticed they got lots of tattoos. And he also knew enough to say that it is not common for Qataris who, when spoke to them and it turns out well, is the back story. The Qatari organizers of this World Cup were terrified that their team would take the field and have absolutely no atmosphere. So they did the logical, rational thing. They started to scout fans, recruit fans in nearby Arab countries. They particularly like the Lebanese clubs. And they went out there and almost auditioned them. These ultras offered them free flights, accommodations, match tickets, food, plus a small stipend. Feel like I’m doing the sale. Closing the deal [laugh] now to bring essentially ultra culture, imported to Qatar’s World Cup games. These fans were essentially mercenaries. So the fans that we keep seeing on the broadcasts, they keep showing these maroon shirts. Someone’s had Qatar written all over them, so excited for their nation. So excited. They’re not Qatari football fans at all. They’re essentially essentially paid actors, extras. And now some of the fans quoted in New York Times, they do say that as Arabs, it’s their job to support a fellow Arab nation. But the entire thing, this whole story is just given off, almost reinforce that stink of artifice and engineered atmosphere and just the complete artificiality and sterility of the whole thing. I think in the TV biz they call the atmosphere.
Tommy Vietor: I look, I also I bet there are a lot of migrant laborers in Qatar who would have loved a stipend, they would have loved an afternoon off and a free ticket to a game. But, you know, I guess that wasn’t the image that Qatar wanted to portray. And by the way, Rog, this is the second major New York Times story about Qatar paying fans to come to the World Cup.
Roger Bennett: Who wrote the other one, did Tocqueville? Was it the Tocqueville? [both speaking]
Tommy Vietor: I mean, Rousseau wrote that one. Yeah. [laughter] They also, God we [laugh] they also paid fans of a bunch of teams, participating teams to attend. As long as those fans would agree to only post positive things about the host nation, Qatar, but also to narc out other people who are criticizing Qatar on social media. [laughter] So like, when you add it all up, it makes the whole thing feel artificial. It is basically the Splenda of World Cup tournaments.
Roger Bennett: Oh, on this podcast we’re hashtag team, Sweet’N Low baby. [music break]
Roger Bennett: Despite Qatar’s attempts to control almost every aspect of this tournament from the very start, from their remote control clouds that they promise would block out the sun to Qatari ultra fantasy camp. And despite Gianni Infantino’s pleas to stick to the football, [laugh] this tournament’s really spiraled because once European ministers realized that they could turn up in the official boxes wearing rainbow armbands that the players were not allowed to wear and that no one could stop them. The Qataris themselves got involved. They counter armband. Several of them turned up featuring pro-Palestinian designs at the Japan Germany game. And from that moment on, the genie just seems to have leapt out of the bottle. At this tournament, the political messaging, the symbolism. It’s just never been more omnipresent than at this World Cup. Politics, history, basic humanity are spilling out everywhere in these games. And it sometimes feels, though, we’re in a global what-about-ism stand off [laugh] fought with armbands at high noon which the football is really just a fleeting diversion.
Tommy Vietor: I love that, a global what-about-ism standoff, but Rog, I think almost I think literally the first time I ever talked to you you said that during the World Cup. Each country’s history and their politics takes the field with the players. And I thought at the time, that’s a pretty good line. I think I’m going to steal that later, pass it off as my own [laughter] sound smart for once. But I don’t think I realized just how true it was and just how present those histories would feel until I started watching this tournament. I mean, during the Germany Japan game, all I could think about was that this was like an all Axis powers match up. And I was waiting for Italy to storm the field somehow and also get beaten. They didn’t make it, by the way, history was there again when Tunisia beat its former occupier, France, there was Iran versus England. The list goes on and on and on. And it just, I think, underscores how ridiculous it was for FIFA President Gianni Infantino to ever pretend that sticking to football was an option. Right. And so my take on the endless armband duels is just like let everybody fire away. You know, if Qatar’s response to criticism that their human rights record is to highlight the treatment of Palestinians, I would argue that that is a pretty cynical deflection that doesn’t address the underlying issues. But I also I do want to see negotiations that lead to a Palestinian state and a better life for the Palestinian people. So let’s just like let’s air it all out and let’s talk about these issues in a respectful way and stop trying to silence people, especially players.
Roger Bennett: It’s also manifested itself in much more flickering and menacing ways and just armband breakdance battles. [laughter] Serbia’s Football Association, they hung a controversial flag, put it up in the locker room before the Brazil game, and the flag showed an outline of Kosovo, one filled with the colors of the Serbia flag and the words no surrender instantly the Football Federation of Kosovo, who are not in this tournament. They filed a complaint to FIFA, which has opened up disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association. Tommy, could you just explain the previous here?
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, I’m not a fan of this one. So Kosovo is a tiny little landlocked country wedged between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. If you’re trying to imagine it in your mind’s eye, basically you go due north of Greece and you’re there. So Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia until the early nineties when the country started to break up, and that breakup unleashed all kinds of fighting and warfare and just horrors. And the fighting included a brutal crackdown by Serbia against ethnic Albanians who are seeking independence in what’s now known as Kosovo. That fighting only ended after NATO got involved and started bombing Serbian targets. Kosovo later declared independence in 2008. But to this day, there are NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, in part because the current Serbian president has vowed to never recognize Kosovo as an independent country. So over the summer, there were flare ups again. Kosovo accused Serbia of stirring up ethnic tensions. They said that effort was actually backed by the Russians. So this flag that was hung up in the Serbian team’s locker room basically says Kosovo, you don’t exist and we will keep fighting until you are under our control. It’s incredibly inflammatory. Some argued genocidal language.
Roger Bennett: Is another instance which really, really lead me also from the Balkans, but also hitting slightly closer to home. Is it involved? The beautiful, beautiful play, the Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who those of you who’ve watched this lovable Canadian collective all know is a sweet, sweet bloke. Who has a punctual for wearing sweat pants and not just shorts and occasionally pulls out a hood there as just adorbs because it makes him look very slightly like Cornholio from Beavis and Butthead. [laughter] And Borjan was born in Croatia in an ethnic Serb region that was part of the conflict that split the former Yugoslavia in the 1990. And Tommy, I’m going to need you to bring us up to speed on this.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah. Listen, unfortunately, Roger, this incident dates back to that same Pandora’s box of horrors that was opened up by the breakup of Yugoslavia. Borjan is an ethnic Serb, but his family lived in a town in Croatia that was mostly populated by Serbs. There are little enclaves, sort of ethnic enclaves all around the region, and that is they lived there until his family had to flee their hometown in 1995 when it was taken by Croatian forces. And there are stories of the time that Serbs were so desperate to escape that they fled on tractors. And Croatian fans at this Canada Croatia game apparently held up a flag with a John Deere tractor on it and the name of Borjan’s hometown in an effort to taunt him, which is, you know, very classy to mock families who are desperately trying to escape a war.
Roger Bennett: Classy and honestly, watching it was horrifying. And I know that the Kittery security teams in the stadiums were probably so bloody busy hunting down all these dangerous rainbows to have time to handle something linked to war atrocities and, you know, death. But America, the country that I love so much. Even they couldn’t escape the mire of politics and history at this World Cup. And this became clear earlier this week when the U.S. ramped up for that win or go home game against Iran. And spoiler alert, they won. But Iran, that nation that’s really been at the epicenter of so much of the politics of this most political World Cup, largely because of the women’s rights protest currently sweeping that nation. Let’s start there. Tommy. Tell us what’s happening in Iran.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, I mean, we touched on this a little bit last week. But, you know, Iranians have been out on the streets protesting since September when a young woman named Mahsa Amini was murdered by Iran’s so-called morality police. I can’t bring myself to call them the morality police because they’re really just thugs who harass and arrest women if they believe they aren’t dressed conservatively enough, like have a little bit of hair is showing from under their headscarf, for example. And when these protests started, they really were focused on the treatment of women, though the actions of the morality police and just the horrible way that, you know, women were plucked off the street and just beaten and bruised in police stations. But over time, the crowds have grown. And as so often happens in these protest movements, the list of demands has grown, too. And you see people now calling for essentially regime change, you know, death to the dictator. And in response, the government crackdown has been absolutely brutal. I’ve seen estimates of over 16,000 protesters arrested. Hundreds have been killed, including children. There’s no doubt that those are undercounts. And the true scope of of what has happened is not known to us. But, you know, it’s really an extraordinary moment in Iran’s history.
Roger Bennett: And at this World Cup, we’ve seen the Iranian players refuse to sing their anthem in their opening game against England, which watching it was so unbelievably moving, an act of true courage as the regime seeks retribution against dissenters. And CNN actually reported that the regime then threatened their families. And so halfhearted anthem singing continued before their games from that point on. We’ve also seen women lay freedom banners and Persian flags sprouting from fans in the stands was one brave woman who came to the game wearing a jersey with Mahsa Amini’s name on the back of it. She stood there briefly for the camera. She had blood paint dripping down her face. It was one of the most striking images of this whole tournament. Qatari security got to say quickly on that one, shirt confiscated, I, I imagine they’ve got this gigantic room in every single stadium, which is just chock full of rainbow stuff [laughter] that they just open the door and just fling more in there. You know?
Tommy Vietor: Leprechauns in there. Yeah.
Roger Bennett: Anyway, the Iranian team’s appearance, their bravery in this tournament, it’s been it’s been such a source of light, a complex source of light, but we really can’t say enough about it. And that’s all background. Brace yourself, listeners, to the lead up of the United States game, which was a must win for the U.S. and in the run up, someone in the U.S. Men’s National Team, social media crew stepped, well, let’s just say they stepped into a pile of Pulisic [laughter] in a post that went out across their platforms for about 24 hours. They decided to remove the symbol of the Islamic Republic from the center of the flag on on their postings, only showing its red, white and green stripes. It was. They say it’s a well-intentioned but incredibly clumsy attempt to support the protests that are happening across that country.
Tommy Vietor: Let me just quickly say why I felt like that social graphic was a bit of an own goal, Rog, if you will. So, first of all [laugh] thank you. It just sort of seemed insulting to everyone. I’m not sure who is who is aided by like a crappy Photoshopped image that was only up for 24 hours and then pulled down as the players in the coach of the U.S. team had to brief the press and say they weren’t consulted about this whole thing. It felt like a bit of a half baked attempt at clickbait that came not long after a truly embarrassing tweet at and about Taylor Swift that we won’t talk about more. [laughter] Um, I’m look, I’m very comfortable criticizing Iran’s supreme leader. I’m I’m comfortable criticizing its elected officials and Iran’s security services, but not the people of the country. I don’t want to insult them. And as a country, as a nation, the United States, we have to be mindful that we have a complicated history with Iran. In 1953, the United States, backed by the British government, supported a military coup in Iran that toppled its democratically elected leader. The United States then helped prop up a pro-Western but hated government for decades for oil revenue. Basically, it’s called the Shah. And then in 2013, President Obama cut this historic deal with Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, which Donald Trump pulled out of before slapping more economic sanctions on them. So the moral of the story here is that, you know, the U.S. Men’s Team, Twitter intern or whatever wandered into a bit of a political minefield here. And they would probably be better off, you know, sticking to thirsty messages about Taylor Swift,[laugh] even if we can forget that one ever happened.
Roger Bennett: But I would just say wandering into the Taylor Swift fan base is a geopolitical minefield. [laugh] It’s a dangerous game.
Tommy Vietor: Be careful. [both speaking] BTS is the only one that’s scarier if we’re being honest. [laugh]
Roger Bennett: But the keyboard brinkmanship was really just the amuse bouche for all that followed because the Iranian state media agency, Tasnim, called for the U.S. team to be immediately booted from the entire tournament. They they threatened, get this to file a complaint to FIFA’s ethics committee, [laugh] which which had, I mean, a startling effect. You always heard the entire world just turn around the laugh and be like, what? [laughter] FIFA’s pretending that its got ethics committee. I mean. It was just with so much that truly unites us in around the globe. But I think just [?] that there’s there’s a door somewhere in FIFA where they the title ethics committee written all that it’s just it’s a it’s like me having a hairstyle committee. [laugh] Anyway, the poor U.S. players and manager certainly caught in a swirling geopolitical storm in which the State Department had to step in, put out press release to make it clear to everyone that it had not been involved at all in any of this, that there was just a US soccer intern going full send on those graphics and it would get worse for the United States boys because the pre-match news conference held ahead of the game Monday. In it, Iranian journalists engage our 23 year old captain Tyler Adams from Wappingers Falls in an exchange that quickly went global.
[clip of Milad Javanmardi]: Tyler, this question is for you. My name is Milad Javanmardi from Press TV. First of all, you say you support the Iranian people, but you’re pronouncing our country’s name wrong. Our country is named Iran, not Iran. Please, once and for all, let’s get this clear. Second of all, are you okay to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders? And we saw the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few years. Are you okay to be representing the US? Meanwhile, there’s so much discrimination happening against Black people in America.
[clip of Tyler Adams]: My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. Yeah. That being said, you know, there’s discrimination everywhere you go. You know, one thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit in in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the US where we’re continuing to make progress every single day through education? I think it’s super important. Like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country. So yeah, it’s a it’s a process I think is as long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing.
Roger Bennett: Oh, can I just say Tyler Adams? You know, I’ve done a podcast together all year on his journey to the World Cup, and I’d like to think that I obviously played no small role in preparing him to deal with idiotic questions and assholes because I’ve asked him as an asshole, lots of idiotic questions for the past 12 months. But in all seriousness, this was to me whatever happens in the World Cup, the greatest American Men’s World Cup moment of 2022. It was incredible, humanly, how Tyler handled this right Tommy. Can you say let me ask say this. Can you think of a single politician who will be able to handle a situation like this with such calm, with such intelligence, with such humility?
Tommy Vietor: No, probably not. I mean, look, got a couple of thoughts on this one, growing up with the last name Vietor, which was mispronounced an infinite number of ways. Vitter, Viator, Viader, I never really understood people getting all upset about mispronunciations, but that’s fine, Roger. We lesson learned. [laughter] Iran we’ll fix it going forward. But look, truly credits to Tyler Adams mostly just for being unflappable there in front of the entire world. I mean, he showed grace, humility. He didn’t get mad at it. Really kind of a cynical effort to invoke his race. And he answered the question in a way that was honest and real and not defensive. And I walked away feeling like, that’s my captain.
Roger Bennett: By the way, when you went to the when I grew up, I thought you were going to reveal that you were once bullied as a freckled redhead. [laughter] I’m glad that we didn’t have to hear about that pain. But I will say to have so much poise at the age of twenty bloody three is just unbelievable. And it was at that moment right there that no matter what happened in the game, I felt like Tyler Adams had just won the World Cup. And Iranian journalists, on the other hand, they then proceeded to launch into the most ridiculous line of questions I’ve seen at a footballing press conference in a long, long time, including some fired manager Gregg Berhalter, whom they started to ask about inflation in the United States. [laughter] And this one, my personal favorite, told me, they asked Gregg Berhalter, manager of the U.S. men’s national team, why he’d not pressured the United States to remove a naval warship from waters near Iran. Tommy, Gregg’s a gent, who still has yet to come up with an effective corner kick routine. [laughter] So this was this was a little bit farcical. But I need to know, who are these reporters?
Tommy Vietor: I love that so much. Coach Gregg, why won’t you get the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman out of the Strait of Hormuz? It’s a it’s a fair question. [laughter] So these these reporters let’s do the air quotes here for those who are watching at home. They were from Iran’s Press TV, I believe and the thing to know about Press TV is they are not press, even the name is Orwellian, it is state run TV. I believe they are the only organization legally allowed to broadcast radio and TV in Iran and Press TV is owned by an organization who is run by a guy directly appointed by the supreme leader of Iran. So they take orders from the top. We used to have to deal with these guys all the time. Back at the White House, there was an old Russian dude who pretended to be a reporter when everybody knew he was a spy. [laughter] None of us ever saw him file a story. Rog It wasn’t like a great cover, but yeah, that is a real pain.
Roger Bennett: Is his name Piers Morgan?
Tommy Vietor: That’s way too harsh. We don’t want to clean up another international incident here that that will be handed to Tyler Adams, basically Iranian Press TV Guys, they are propagandists, right? So they are more Sean Spicer than Wolf Blitzer, if you get my drift.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, Wolf would never Tommy. [laughter] But Tommy, you’ve worked in that White House when all this is going down, a social media post story that gets the attention of the Iranian government. Iranian reporters asking triple g Gregg Berhalter about U.S. military strategy. Gunboat one tiny tweet and suddenly, like, I just imagine like gunboats rotating their, their direction of trajectory, what happens at an actual diplomatic level?
Tommy Vietor: Yeah. I mean look at the State Department got asked about this. I mean and I would all but guarantee that the person who has my old job at the White House and the National Security Council, they did, too. I know that CNN reported that they asked state if they had coordinated on the graphic with the men’s soccer team, they had not. But like when those questions come in, you actually have to run that question up the chain through the bureaucracy and you have to make damn sure there was no coordination, maybe at a lower level that senior leaders weren’t aware of and have your facts straight, because if you’re wrong, this could turn into an even bigger conspiratorial mess. And I can tell you from experience that little things like this stupid Photoshop job can become big problems internationally quite fast.
Roger Bennett: God I would have loved if the State Department put a press release, just saying we didn’t have anything to do with this, but for the love of God Berhalter can you play Gio Reyna for more than 7 minutes? [laughter].
Roger Bennett: Well, one, though is where does all this leave us Tommy? An event, the World Cup, which is meant to be filled with joy, global connectivity, meaning but so rife, occasionally rancid to be honest with politics and fast becoming even more political because we love a bit of a recency bias at Men in Blazers. It is a currency which we trade regularly. But this World Cup, it’s been political before. Remember back in episode one, we talked about Mussolini’s 1934 World Cup, 1978, run by the Argentinean hunter, and, of course, 2018 Vladimir Putin’s World Cup. But this this is most certainly the single most overtly political World Cup I have experienced. And if we thought this one was political projecting forward, what does that say about the next one? Which is Tommy. I’ve just forgotten where it is for a second. Can you remind me?
Tommy Vietor: Right here, the US, Mexico, Canada, we actually Los Angeles. Rog. We’re going to get some games at SoFi Stadium. I’m very excited already planning where I’m going to sit, how I’m going to get there. I hope you can come visit.
Roger Bennett: Stan Kroenke sitting there watching on like a like the Amir himself and already [laughter] journalists European based journalist are pondering what that may look like after a mass shooting of Virginia that left six people dead. The New York Times Tariq Panja, a gent who as you mentioned earlier, has covered this World Cup so bloody brilliantly he, quote, tweeted a news report about the shooting and he said, these are his words. He said “such a regular occurrence there that it’s now expected hosted the 2026 World Cup wouldn’t blame fans if they felt anxious about these events when thinking about whether or not to attend,” end quote. And Tommy, that tweet. The foreign policy questions for Gregg Berhalter. All of it. Well, they’ve got me thinking, what will the World Cup in our nation be like? What? What policy issues, both foreign and domestic will will serve as the side cost to the football? Will we be the ones who have to prepare for the criticism? Will we be the ones who have to prepare for the scrutiny?
Tommy Vietor: So your question is basically what will Fox not be reporting on? [laughter]
Roger Bennett: It’s a lovely, lovely day here in Los Angeles. Yeah.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah. So, look, Tariq is absolutely right. I mean, and frankly, it’s probably good for us to occasionally pause and try to look at ourselves from an outside perspective because, I don’t know, maybe we could learn something. And you know what? Like teams, players, fans visiting the U.S. for the 2026 World Cup, they will have every right to be concerned about the fact that you can buy and walk around with a machine gun in this country. I mean, that is nuts. It is shameful. And the fact that we haven’t done anything about it is shameful and deserves criticism as that exchange with with Tyler Adams showed. I’m sure critics will bring up America’s history of slavery and Jim Crow and the systemic racism that still exists in this country to this day. That is a completely valid critique. I would not be at all surprised Rog if the pro-Palestine armbands make another appearance. Countries criticize the US support for Israel. You can imagine calls from Latin American teams for the U.S. to apologize for the CIA’s meddling in South and Central America during the Cold War. The list goes on and on. The point is, it’s coming. And I just hope that our response as a nation is to realize that we’re not above reproach and to deal with criticism more like Tyler Adams than FIFA and not trot out some greasy jerk like Gianni Infantino to run interference for us and try to silence people. Right. Freedom of speech is the core of who we are and should be the value that we are projecting at all times.
Roger Bennett: And we will have a rainbow just an arc oh, oh, please, God, from sea to shining sea. And with that, we bring this episode of World Corrupt to a close. Tommy, I know that we’re both living a lot of life right now, and I just want to wish you and your partner at this incredibly special time, just all just health, joy and human wonder and your entire team at Crooked Media the best. You are a beautiful bloke. I’ve loved every single second we spent together creating this series. And to be clear, dear listener, this is not us closing the door on the possibility of another episode once things settled down or once Gianni Infantino records some kind of diss track aimed at the kids who bullied him for being a ginge, but for now everyone at Men in Blazers just wants to send you and you in particular Tommy, big love and courage.
Tommy Vietor: Thank you, buddy. I truly love doing this show with you. Your team over at Men in Blazers is extraordinary. You guys have given me the gift of this time together. The series. Unfortunately, you have turned me into something of a football fanatic. I don’t know that Hannah is thrilled about that. In 2023, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get those tummy tattoos right. Tracy Chapman for you we’ll do mom, for me maybe, [laughter] or something like that. We’re going to go to Goodison Park, we’re going to find the first guy who has a bad thing to say about Christian Pulisic, and then we’ll probably make some jokes and that’s all we can do. [laughter] But jokes aside, I sincerely do hope that we can we can link up again with the football is over. We can yap one more time about all the things we learned and loves and hated about this tournament. But until then, lots of love to you, Vanessa, your kids, your dog, and all the listeners who went on this journey with us. I’m grateful to all of you.
Roger Bennett: And one last word I say, whatever happens when our boys take the field against the Netherlands, one of the few teams in this tournament that we have no geopolitical beef with whatsoever, it’s just a joy to watch the men and the women who represent the United States, a diverse, eclectic, kinetic squad of wonder. And in this time of chaos, in this time of division, let’s just marvel at them, because they are one of the few things that just whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe in, they really make us all dream and they give us a sense of unity. And ultimately, that’s the final thing. I’m incredibly grateful for this World Cup. Godspeed, gents. Courage. [music break]
Tommy Vietor: World Corrupt is an original podcast collaboration from Men in Blazers and Crooked Media’s Pod Save the World alongside Roger Bennett, I’m your host, Tommy Vietor.
Roger Bennett: The executive producers and writers of World Corrupt are me, Roger Bennett, my great friend Tommy Vietor and Men in Blazers’ Jonathan Williamson, who incredibly edited and sound designed the episodes, bit like Phil Collins drumming and singing at the very same time.
Tommy Vietor: [laughs] A talented man. From the Crooked Media side. Our executive producers are Michael Martinez, Sandy Girard, and Giancarlo Bizzaro. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Haley Muse, and our associate producer is Saul Rubin.
Roger Bennett: For Men in Blazers, our producer is Miranda Davis and Martin S.
Tommy Vietor: This episode was fact checked by Nikki Shaner-Bradford. Music by Vasilis Fotopoulos.
Roger Bennett: With editing assistance from Nick Firchau.
Tommy Vietor: Additional production support from Crooked Media’s Zuri Irvin, Kyle Seglin and Ari Schwartz.
Roger Bennett: And Men in Blazers Mix Diskerud.
Tommy Vietor: Special thanks to Crooked Media, Julia Beach, Amelia Montooth and Matt DeGroot.
Roger Bennett: As well as Men Blazers. Scott Debson, Michael Milberger, and Alex Sale for their promotional social support and love.