IT has been a dire couple of years for the world and a challenging period for football at all levels. And it seems to be getting worse for the beautiful game – violence off the pitch, financial chaos at many clubs, a lack of cooperation around covid vaccination and to cap it all, Qatar 2022 is drawing closer.
The return of thuggery
We shouldn’t be too surprised about the behaviour of Hungary’s fans at Wembley, but given they fought with police, how come only one arrest was made? The country has a leader, Victor Orban, who has been eroding Hungary’s democratic system by implementing an authoritarian regime that some critics call “soft facism”. At the same time, he has encouraged the construction of new football grounds and around 10 of Hungary’s top clubs are owned or run by his acolytes. The behaviour of the Hungarian fans was appalling, but we should not kid ourselves that they are the only bad news in the modern game – on the same night, Albanian fans threw bottles at Poland’s players and forced a 20 minute delay. We’ve also seen issues with Czech fans in their games with Rangers this season. But let’s not forget the events at Wembley during Euro 2020.
Something has changed and it may be part of the economic cycle that became in 2008. There’s been an upturn in right wing sentiment and xenophobia, partly driven by macroeconomic conditions, protectionism, the global migrant crisis and political instability. Although in terms of the numbers involved (with the exception of the Euro final) we have not returned to the late 1970s and 1980s, there is something very sinister about it all. The penalties have to be harsher and proper searches have to take place outside stadiums. The last thing we need as the game opens up once more is the worst elements of the football experience coming to the fore. UEFA, Orban, FIFA, sort it out, please.
The selfishness of the myopic player
Apparently, two-thirds of all Premier League footballers have not had the covid-19 vaccine. A mix of complacency, misguided indestructibility and misinformation have hindered the vaccination process, even though some prominent players from the past have died from covid-related illness. Some players have been spouting anti-vaxx conspiracy theories, much to the disgust of their clubs. Have they forgotten that football has been played in empty stadiums and fans have been unable to attend until the vaccine was rolled out and adopted? The problem is, a lot of players are social media addicts and there is a her mentality among dressing rooms. Pat Nevin, a former player with a social conscience, is not impressed: “Football players have had so many benefits over this period of time. Everyone has bent over backwards to get football back on. To not then be vaccinated and help secure other people’s safety as well as their own, I’m gobsmacked, I’m really upset about it.” Perhaps it is time for fans to show their feelings about players who have refused to be vaccinated?
The hypocrisy of Qatar 2022
Denmark and Germany booked their place for the 2022 World Cup but their players are far from comfortable about the competition being held in Qatar. Denmark captain Simon Kjaer has publicly stated that the Danish squad are emphatically against the World Cup being hosted there but will leave the politics to the DBU (Danish FA) to deal with. In theory, England’s players should boycott the competition given they have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their zero tolerance approach to racism by taking the knee. Yet if they felt that strongly, surely they should refuse to play in a nation that has a poor human rights record? Hypocrisy, of course, is no stranger to football, as we saw this past week in Newcastle. Being owned by a state that executed almost 200 people in 2019 is one thing, but celebrating it takes the discomfort to a new level. Time and time again, football lets itself down.