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A couple of days ago, a colleague sent an email to the whole staff asking if anyone would be interested in joining their (very low key) betting pool for the World Cup (Football/Soccer) that is taking place in Qatar at the moment.

There has been a lot of negative press about the event due to various issues (slave labor, racism, the general state of human rights in Qatar, ...) and there are many voices (among them fan groups) that say one should boycott the event and FIFA.

I agree with those, and wonder if it is appropriate to send a reply email bringing up those concerns or if this introduction of "political" issues is wrong in a work environment.

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  • Are you contemplating a Reply, or a Reply All?
    – AakashM
    Nov 21, 2022 at 10:13
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    @AakashM If anything, a reply all
    – Sursula
    Nov 21, 2022 at 10:18
  • "reply all" vs "reply all in the conversation". I doubt a coworker put out a request to an organization... meanwhile, my coworkers would do something similar to our group. What's the scope of "all"? an organization of hundreds? an agile team of 20?
    – WernerCD
    Nov 21, 2022 at 15:58
  • It's unclear how your social justice ambitions, if any, would be furthered by the actions you propose. Can you elaborate on how and why your proposed actionswould enact some sort of meaningful change. Nov 22, 2022 at 10:38

11 Answers 11

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In my 40+ years journey navigating a workplace, I discovered that, outside the normal work-related topics, one should never engage in discussing: 1. politics 2. money as it's only bringing arguments and resentment. You would probably make more foes than friends.

The colleague is aking for a simple answer to a simple question: do you want to? NO, thanks. Period. Let them do what they want to, and walk your own path. If you're asked why you don't play with them, just remain elusive, and politely deflect the question.

Don't start something that will only bring bad feelings.

A comment about religion just reminded me of that little story that happened at my then-workplace. A colleague (Alice) is asking us to buy lotto tickets for her 8 yo daughter (to help finance school travel). 2€ per ticket. We all do but one. Bob (Muslim) politely declines, but offers to give the 2€ without picking a number. Alice insists. Bob politely deflects. Alice is pushing him until I tell her: "Alice, Bob can't play. It's against his beliefs and it's forbiden by his religion. He can give money for the cause, but not play, that's it.". Bob = perfect attitude. Alice = no comment.

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    agree, and if they ask you why you politely declined, I'd recommend staying vague, "I'm not feeling it this year, you know with the whole (wave hands indicating general turmoil)" is, or should be plenty of explanation.
    – Borgh
    Nov 21, 2022 at 9:23
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    Isn't this how a terrible status quo is allowed to carry on in society? Workplaces aren't somehow outside of society, and OP self-censoring their true feelings is exactly what Qatar/FIFA would want; they're relying on people glossing over their toxicity to maintain their social capital.
    – thosphor
    Nov 21, 2022 at 15:31
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    Deciding when and where is not self-censorship. Personally, if asked why not, I would consider that an opportunity to politely and briefly state what my concerns were, if I thought the person asking actually cared about my reasons rather than just being enthusiastic about the pool. It that leads to a discussion, great; if it doesn't, that's fine; I have still taken and held the position that I consider appropriate. If it's someone I socialize with outside work, I might discuss it more then, but would probably hold it for a discussion in the personal context.
    – keshlam
    Nov 21, 2022 at 15:39
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    Don't forget, 3. Religion
    – coblr
    Nov 21, 2022 at 17:57
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    this is terribly bad advice. It may avoid a short term discussion, but not discussing human rights violation, especially when literally prompted to engage in low-key supporting of human rights violations, is how societies get to dictatorships. The increase in authoritarianism over the world, including in EU/USA, is exactly because people are not willing to debate important topics, not even when prompted to do so, as if debating it later in a full dictatorship will make it easier.
    – Andrei
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:36
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In Germany it depends on your colleagues but I think there is a fine line you should not cross: Telling others what to do.

So for example "you should not have a betting pool, look at what happened there, you should be boycotting it" will be taken very negatively. Telling others what they should do, will not be perceived well.

On the other side, what you personally do is your thing and communicating this is perfectly fine. "I'm sorry, I have read about everything that went down there and I have decided to not participate in this Weltmeisterschaft (World Cup), in any way." If you want, you can add a single link to a reputable news source, but if somebody does not know about it by now in Germany, they have been living under a rock. For the last few years.

I would say that is a good general guideline here. Don't tell anybody else what they should do. Tell them what you will do and leave it to them what they make of it.

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    Agree wholeheartedly! "I am not going to participate because..." when expressed politely, is appropriate and carries weight. "You shouldn't participate because..." is judgemental, dictatorial and will lose friends quickly. Also, please DO NOT Reply All (especially if it's more than 10 people) - most people really don't care what you think...
    – FreeMan
    Nov 21, 2022 at 15:46
  • @FreeMan Obviously the sender sent an email to multiple people because they had a thought of a betting pool that they wanted to share with everyone, regardless of whether the receivers cared or not about the thoughts of that sender. Replying to all, which is literally just sending an email to multiple people, with your thoughts is in no way less appropriate than the initial email. If most people considered the initial email appropriate, they should consider the reply to all just as appropriate.
    – Andrei
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:29
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    I strongly disagree, @Andrei. I often get emails of congratulations to team members for various achievements. Getting the email is a good thing and it's very appropriate for a manager to send it, even if it's sent to 400 people. What is not appropriate is for 30 or 40 of those people to Reply All with "Yay! Congrats!". I forward the message to the person being edified and address my congratulations directly to that person. Sometimes if appropriate, and I have something to add of value to the community, I might consider a Reply All, but I think long and hard before I do.
    – FreeMan
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:43
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    @Andrei The tone & intent of the original email and the tone & intent of the proposed reply are completely different. The original email was an invitation to participate in a fun activity, while the reply is the initiation of a political discussion - which is almost universally considered to be a bad idea at work. In this case, since participation is obviously entirely voluntary, there isn't even any obligation to reply at all - just delete & move on. The workplace is not the place for political activism (however justified the cause may be).
    – brhans
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:52
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    @brhans I agree that in some countries there is a culture of separating politics from everything, whether it is fun games that support human rights violations, or work, as if politics wouldn't literally be the rules we humans make up to organize fun games, human rights, and work. Nevertheless this culture is promoted by authoritarian figures to convince people to not get involved in politics, as to leave all political power to said authoritarian figures. This culture is bonkers. For as long as you can talk, talk. When everyone will be convinced to shut up, only violence is left.
    – Andrei
    Nov 21, 2022 at 19:03
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I agree with the general feeling that you just politely decline without giving a reason. I would add that I was in potentially the same situation and I didn't follow my own advice.

The difference being that the lad who organised it is a work friend. We support the same club team and I normally always engage with things like this. When I declined to enter he was surprised and asked me why.

It was at this point I told him why. I went and told him in person my feelings about the current world cup. He was fine and accepted my reasons. If I hadn't had this connection I would probably have just stuck with 'I don't want to'.

So in general I would politely decline without explanation. However, that does depend on your relationship with the person who emailed you. I would NEVER though hit 'reply all' via the work email for something like this.

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    Yeah, "No Thank You" vs "Thank You but No because..." depends on context and group dynamics.
    – WernerCD
    Nov 21, 2022 at 16:01
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    funny enough, I disagree with your answer, but agree with what you did. Avoiding discussions on important topics is how important topics get first sidelined, then ignored, then taboo, then illegal to be discussed. When you can talk, talk. Fighting for rights is not going to be easier than talking for rights.
    – Andrei
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:41
  • @Andrei sorry, but I don't agree. I am there to work, the person is enough of a friend that we have conversations outside of work topics. Therefore it was appropriate and not out of place to have more of a conversation in free time. I don't think is the place to start a political debate in work time with a virtual stranger.
    – Dustybin80
    Nov 22, 2022 at 11:03
  • So what you're saying is basically: "I was exactly in the same situation as you, and I chose to explain my reasons, and it went perfectly fine, so I'm recommending you not to explain your reasons."
    – Stef
    Nov 22, 2022 at 15:14
  • @Stef Maybe I should reword. The situation is the same as in I didn't join a world cup event as I have moral objections. I don't know it is 'exactly' the same as the OP didn't explain how close his relationship was to the colleague. I would describe the colleague I spoke to as a friend so I behaved how I would with a friend. This forum is about the workplace though. If that distinction isn't clear from my answer... sorry.
    – Dustybin80
    Nov 22, 2022 at 15:38
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Is it appropriate to voice concerns over the Qatar world cup when colleague asks people to join betting pool?

Yes, but only with colleagues with whom you'd otherwise be comfortable discussing politics.

Many answers here point out that you should avoid discussing politics at the workplace. This is great as a general rule, and I'd do exactly that if I were not sure that it was safe to do so.

It is possible to discuss politics at the workplace, but you have to tread carefully. As a personal example, we do discuss politics at my workplace every now and then, but my team and I know each other personally for around 20 years, we try to do it as respectfully as possible, we know each other's red lines, and there are still some topics we'd rather avoid, because we already know that we have vastly different opinions on that topic and/or because someone feels very strongly about it.

Thus, you should definitely not reply-to-all with your personal opinion. By all means, mention it in private to those colleagues you consider trusted friends, and with whom you have already established boundaries on what is or is not acceptable in political discussions. But keep it professional with everyone else, and that includes not sharing your political views uninvited.

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As a general rule, if you have to ask if something is appropriate, then it's probably not.

How big is this company? How appropriate was it, I wonder, that even the first email was sent out to the company, as a whole? At some companies, company-wide emails are to only be sent out for actual legit company business - not independently organized activities.

If that initial email would be seen by company leadership as a misappropriation of company resources then it stands to reason that a reply to it would also be a misappropriation of company resources.

If that initial email is kosher, however, then I'd say it really depends. In this scenario, I'd probably look to see if there was precedent for sending politically tinged emails like the one you're considering sending. If there is and, to the best of your knowledge, the person who sent the politically tinged email did so with no adverse effect, then I guess it's whatever. But if there isn't precedent then, personally, I'd hold off. And if you haven't been there long enough to have a good selection of emails to determine precedent then I'd hold off, as well.

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  • I overall disagree with your answer, and especially with classifying politics as taboo. But I can't downvote you because you are the only answer which puts the original email in perspective, as a counterpart of a potential reply. They are equally appropriate or not appropriate.
    – Andrei
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:45
  • @Andrei - I didn't say that politics was taboo. I was saying "go with precedent" and "if there is no precedent wait until there is". There's a saying: when in Rome do as the Romans do. But you can't copy someone with first observing them so wait until you've had a chance to observe. If you thought I was saying that politics is taboo then I didn't do a very good job in typing up my response...
    – neubert
    Nov 21, 2022 at 19:24
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You can do something in the middle. You can say "I don't want to join any betting pool about things happening in Qatar". No mention of politics. If they don't know why you might not be happy with things in Qatar then don't explain it unless they ask. If they tell you that you shouldn't care about things then they are starting with political arguments and they are doing wrong what you avoided.

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  • This is the correct answer because such a response answers the question the original email asked without appearing preachy, yet also provides context as to why OP is answering in the negative while inviting those who are interested to contact them to find out why.
    – Ian Kemp
    Nov 21, 2022 at 17:35
  • I am afraid the answer suggested here can be misunderstood in a shockingly xenophobic way. It seems that the OP has concerns about very specific aspects of Qatar; presumably, they are not opposed to Qatar, or anything related to Qatar, as a matter of principle. Nov 29, 2022 at 22:24
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At work it's best not to get involved with or discuss, politics, money, religion or other employee's family. Especially if it's with people you barely know.

There is no need to be an outspoken activist at work, the outcome is uncertain and these are people right there, not thousands of miles away.

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I think it depends on the overall outcome you want to achieve. Most likely, you will not change the beliefs of your colleagues just by sending an e-mail, but you can change drastically their attitude towards you.

Approach 1: You send a short e-mail, telling them you do not participate to their bet as a way to boycott the Qatar games. If they feel inclined to boycott also, they will do. If not, it is not in your hands any more.

Approach 2: You send a big e-mail (and maybe also start verbal discussions) expressing your opinions and to try to convince them to boycott the games too. If they just want to have fun and not fully boycott the games, they might start to avoid including you in their communications (and community).

So now, you need to choose where you want to be between what is moral and what is good for you.

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I agree with those, and wonder it is appropriate to send a reply email bringing up those concerns or if this introduction of "political" issues is wrong in a work environment.

It's perfectly appropriate to decline to participate in an event about which you feel strongly.

It's inappropriate in the workplace to use this as an opportunity for virtue signaling.

Just politely decline and leave it at that.

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    The assumption that this is about virtue signalling, as opposed to a genuine desire to educate others, detracts from your answer.
    – Ian Kemp
    Nov 21, 2022 at 17:31
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    Letting people know that you have a moral objection to something is not virtue signaling. I don't agree with @IanKemp that we should be attempting to 'educate' work colleagues, but someone should be able to tell their coworkers "I am not participating in this thing you've invited me to participate in because I object to X". Trying to shame your coworkers for not having the same position you do is a problem; simply letting people know your position shouldn't be.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:41
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    @JoeStrazzere You are assuming a motive (intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness) If I say "No, I don't want to participate in the pool because I don't gamble." I am not virtue signaling, I'm explaining why I'm declining the invitation. If I say "No, only degenerates gamble." I would be virtue signaling. One can assert a moral position and not be virtue signaling.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 21, 2022 at 21:52
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    @JoeStrazzere That's as ridiculous as "don't ask/don't tell". I should not have to hide who I am from my coworkers. It is not virtue signaling to say "I'm not engaging in any World Cup stuff because the Qatar government is evil". I don't do it so that other people will view me as a good person. I do it so my coworkers know where I stand whether it improves their opinion of me or not. Sometimes it doesn't. I am morally against pretending like I don't have any strong beliefs about certain things lol
    – ColleenV
    Nov 21, 2022 at 22:34
  • @JoeStrazzere I'm very much against virtue signaling myself, but I think in this situation, it's possible to gracefully tell the colleagues that the OP doesn't want to participate or to hear anymore about the activity, and to mention the specific reason, without telling others what to do or judging or crtiticising them. Granted, it would be a thin line. The phrasing needs to be very precise. Nov 22, 2022 at 14:42
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Similar workplace discussions were happening during the 2018 FIFA world cup held in Russia. Many football (soccer) fans wanted no part of that, because Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014; and has been oppressing LGBT even more than Qatar does. Many others pooh-poohed such concerns. The latter are not necessarily bad people. You still have to get along with them at work.

Your colleague already committed a faux pas by sending this e-mail to a bunch of colleagues, some of whom probably feel dismayed and isolated by it. Try not to compound on his error.

It would not help to start a discussion of the situation in Qatar. Everyone already knows what's going on there and have chosen to participate or not, based on their values and the common knowledge. Your colleagues don't need to be educated by you or judged by you. But you can inform everyone about your own feelings, and inform those colleagues who agree with you that they are not alone.

I think it is better to "reply to all", rather than just to the sender, saying something along the lines of:

"I hope everyone participating in the betting pool has their fun. However, I'm opting to stay out, because the goings on in Qatar make me uncomfortable, and would appreciate not hearing about this subject any futher. Good luck with the pool! I'm looking forward to the 2026 WC in North America."

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    Everyone already knows what's going on there << I think this is vastly overestimating what "everyone" knows. (Still, I upvoted. I think this is the best answer.)
    – Stef
    Nov 22, 2022 at 15:17
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    Thanks a lot, point taken, is this better: everyone who follows TV sports definitely knows that "something" (may not know the details of human rights problems) is going on in Qatar, that makes some football fans uncomfortable enough to not want to receive betting pool invitations. I mean, there's no need to elaborate in my suggested response. Its recipients will know to what it refers. Nov 22, 2022 at 18:56
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You can talk about it, just be careful not to come off as preachy. Example: 'thanks but this time round I'd rather not. The Qatar situation doesn't sit right with me'.

If they ask for more details, you can give them but maintain that it's a personal decision and that you aren't judging others for doing different

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