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The World Cup's Empathy Chain ⚽️
There are weak links 🔗
Empathy plays a significant role in everything I write. For the past few posts, I’ve written about empathy, why it’s crucial, and one way I screen candidates for it. But this is my last post (explicitly, anyway) about empathy.
Getting better at empathizing, particularly at work, is a practice I’m grateful for and I hope you are too.
Have an outstanding Thanksgiving!
The World Cup's Empathy Chain ⚽️
This post is about a concept I’m calling empathy chains.
The goal is to argue that while empathy in individual roles, stages, or areas is essential, viewing your organization (and yourself) as a whole provides a more true-to-life perspective.
Therefore, your empathy is only as good as the weakest link. A lack of empathy in one area can ruin the experience and undo years of goodwill.
I’ll examine FIFA and the 2022 World Cup to make this argument.
FIFA’s 2022 World Cup
This week FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, said this in a press conference days before the kick-off of the 2022 World Cup.
Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker
Infantino is, literally, none of those things - it was a maybe authentic, though clumsy, attempt at empathy. Here’s the video:
The 2010 announcement of Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup was controversial. So far, the host country has proven the skeptics right.
FIFA has made many public efforts to be more empathetic in the past decade, especially regarding issues regarding race. If you give FIFA the benefit of the doubt and assume that its efforts are in good faith, you’d think that FIFA is an empathetic organization. After all, FIFA understands that discrimination is harmful and publicly wishes to end it; those are good things!
It’s clear that FIFA is undoubtedly invested in being perceived as an empathetic organization, and, as of last weekend, its president is committed to looking more empathetic. But that’s where their credibility ends.
The weak link in FIFA’s chain was the selection of Qatar as the World Cup host in 2022. Qatar is a country that punishes homosexuality with three years of imprisonment, ranks 129 of 162 on the Human Freedom Index, has been credibly accused of mistreating (even killing) the migrant workers who built their World Cup infrastructure, and has been accused of offering numerous bribes to FIFA officials.
FIFA’s and even Infantino’s public attempts at displays of empathy are laudable, but sadly for them, those displays don’t exist in isolation. It’s hard not to look upon the selection of Qatar as a World Cup host and believe that FIFA is an empathetic organization. If anything, the weakness in their chain makes their other, seemingly genuine, attempts at empathy just cynical PR moves.
What’s happening with FIFA and the World Cup is an excellent example of how empathy is perceived as a whole rather than a part of an organization.
The decade of criticism leveled at FIFA for the past decade is warranted. Yes, some criticism is hypocritical (as Infantino claims). Still, for the most part, no one can realistically claim that selecting Qatar was a good decision, much less in line with FIFA’s attempts to be more tolerant and inclusive.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is, where are our empathetic weak spots? Where are we falling short? And how can we address them?
Acknowledging even minor empathetic deficiencies is the first step to resolving them - and working towards resolving them is an empathetic act in itself.