Sportswashing: Complicity and Corruption

Thumbnail Image

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



When the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup was awarded to Qatar, it raised a number of moral concerns, perhaps the most prominent of which was Qatar’s woeful record on human rights in the arena of migrant labour. Qatar’s interest in hosting the event is aptly characterised as a case of ‘sportswashing’.

The first aim of this paper is to provide an account of the nature of sportswashing, as a practice of using an association with sport, usually through hosting an event or owning a club (such as Newcastle United, owned by Saudi Arabia), to subvert the way that others attend to a moral violation for which the sportswashing agent is responsible. This may be done through distracting away from wrongdoing, minimising it, or normalising it.

Second, we offer an account of the distinctive wrongs of sportswashing. The gravest moral wrong is the background injustice which sportswashing threatens to perpetuate. But the distinctive wrongs of sportswashing are twofold: first, it makes participants in sport (athletes, coaches, journalists, fans) complicit in the sportswasher’s wrongdoing, which extends a moral challenge to millions of people involved with sport. Second, sportswashing corrupts valuable heritage associated with sporting traditions and institutions.

Finally, we examine how sportswashing ought to be resisted. The appropriate forms of resistance will depend upon different roles people fill, such as athlete, coach, journalist, fan. The basic dichotomy of resistance strategies is to either exit the condition of complicity, for example by refusing to participate in the sporting event, or to modify one’s engagement with the goal of transformation in mind. We recognize this is difficult and potentially burdensome: sports are an important part of many of our lives; our approach attempts to respect this.







Kyle Fruh

Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Duke Kunshan University

Chair, Duke Kunshan University Institutional Review Board (DKU IRB)

Associate Editor, The Journal of Ethics

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.