So, we’re just a few days into the World Cup, and guess who’s winning? The football, of course, which is wonderful. But also the Qatari regime and Fifa – which, well, makes me sick as a parrot.
The beautiful game has shaded the ugly face of Fifa, and the magic may, as intended, end up successfully sportswashing the Qatar regime. They – Fifa and the Emirate – are already having the last laugh, albeit after a disastrous start.
I guess it was always going to be so. The World Cup is all about the football, to borrow a cliche. It’s not Cop27. It’s not a UN Human Rights convention or a parliamentary debate. It’s about Richarlison’s bicycle kick for Brazil against a leaden Serbia. Saudi Arabia’s giant-killing of Messi and Argentina (for which everyone in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia got a day off work and their formidable goalie, presumably, his own palace).
England’s morale-boosting 6-2 win against Iran. The Black Stars of Ghana and their heartbreaking struggle against Cristiano Ronaldo – such an annoying man – and Portugal. And of course, Wales’s disappointment against Iran – and indeed, the mixed emotions of the Iranian supporters. Even the nil-nil draws have had their moments.
So now no one is talking much about the human rights abuses, the suppression of LGBT+ people or the 6,000 or more migrant workers who needlessly lost their lives building the football city in the desert for the Qataris. Sure, we were pummelled with all this before the first games were played, when the pundits hadn’t that much to talk about yet; and there was room for mini-documentaries about the Nepali families left without breadwinners because they died of kidney failure after working in the extreme heat.
There’s not going to be much room for that when there are penalty decisions to be argued over, metatarsal injuries to be metaphorically X-rayed, the potential of the Japan squad and the preternatural maturity of Jude Bellingham to be (rightly) noted and remarked upon.
Entirely obviously, the football has crowded out almost everything else. Yes, Fifa is running a World Cup in the wrong place, at the wrong time of year, and it’s not as joyous as it would have been had it been held in, say, Italy or Argentina.
It does feel wrong, in the November gloom (of the upper hemisphere, at any rate) and in the middle of the league seasons. We’re not used to it, and over in Qatar aspects of the administration have been disappointing, to say the least. (On the other hand, I’m not sure the England fans dressed up as 12th-century, anti-Muslim, warrior Crusaders had thought through all the cultural sensitivities surrounding their cosplay.)
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There is always going to be that slightly sour aftertaste about the Qatar tournament, but now and even more as the games proceed – another three weeks of this fun – the footballing will continue to dominate the coverage and the commentary.
I suppose everyone will probably associate cruelty and denial of basic human rights with the Qatari state, and corruption and competence with Fifa; but memories fade, and the warm glow of the games will dissipate the horrors. In which case the Qataris will be satisfied that the $200bn they spent on building the infrastructure was money well spent.
Maybe, who knows, what everyone will remember the 2022 Qatar tournament for is the gentlemanly Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane holding the Fifa World Cup trophy aloft, and football “coming home”.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, somehow, a rainbow armband will have mysteriously appeared on them and their teammates, post-final, for the pictures that will go around the world? Just a wishful thought.