World Cup fans line up outside of Athletic Club in Oakland for the Mexico vs Argentina game on November, 26, 2022 Credit: Amir Aziz

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Are you planning to watch the World Cup’s knock-out matches over the next couple of weeks? But are you concerned about the human rights record of the host nation, Qatar, and other controversies involving international soccer? Then the Berkeley Public Library might be the perfect venue for you.

The library is hosting a family-friendly environment to enjoy the remainder of the most prestigious men’s soccer tournament. All five branch locations will be screening the 11 a.m. matches. According to staff, it is the first time the library has hosted World Cup viewings. 

“Sports and soccer are such a big part of our community. We see the fields over on Gilman filled with players of all ages, all week long,” said librarian Kasey Breien. “We wanted to provide a place to see as many games as possible for free, that doesn’t require monetary contributions such as a bar or a restaurant.”

Library staff said they feel it is necessary to contextualize the current FIFA World Cup controversy, especially reports that thousands of migrant workers died during the construction of the tournament stadiums. To do this, the library will host a virtual panel about human rights abuses and corruption in FIFA, soccer’s international organizing body.  

The panel is this Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and will feature Lindsay Barenz, president of the Oakland Roots and Oakland Soul soccer clubs, Alireza Azizi, Amnesty International’s country specialist for Qatar, Yemen, and United Arab Emirates, Dr. Nasser Mohammed, an LGBTQ+ Qatari physician, and Jules Boykoff, a former U.S Men’s National Team player and author whose work examines the politics of sports. 

In 2010, Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 world cup. FIFA’s decision was swiftly contested as the Middle Eastern country was accused of buying votes to secure their selection. In the years that followed, human rights organizations and international news outlets documented Qatar’s use of forced migrant labor to build stadiums and other facilities. Critics have also decried Qatar’s record on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

“We wanted to be sure that we were including voices that could speak to the many facets of the issue,” said Bill Kolb, Library Services Manager.  Panelists will also address the phenomenon of global “sports washing,” which is when countries and companies utilize sports to clean up their images.

“One of the important roles of public libraries is to create a space to convene the community to explore ideas and issues,” Tess Mayer, Director of Library Services, said. “Thursday’s discussion and Q&A is sure to be lively, timely, and informative.”

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.