THE WORLD Cup is underway and Ecuador have inflicted the first defeat on the hosts, the only home nation to be beaten in their opening game in the competition’s history. If the sceptics want some consolation about Qatar’s tarnished World Cup, it will surely be an early exit and no more than three games. The Asian champions, overawed and unable to rise to the occasion, were that ineffective.
Gianni Infantino has been digging himself into a hole for weeks and on the eve of the first game, made an eccentric, outrageous and desperate justification speech. Who the hell wrote this for him? He was at it again when he grabbed a microphone, Karaoke style and insisted: “Football unites the world and now let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin. All the best to everyone.”
Meanwhile, Qatar has prevented fans from enjoying a drink unless they are kettled into the FIFA fan parks, paying extortionate prices in an easily-managed camp. The accommodation, almost mirroring migrant workers’ centres, are ludicrously spartan, expensive and primitive. Qatar may consider they are welcoming the world but there are simply treating it with contempt. And still they claim inclusiveness is their aim – does anybody really believe any of this nonsense?
World Cups used to be about carnival, about different nationalities mixing with each other, raising a glass and sharing experiences. Yes, there were also those that treated the football jamboree as an opportunity to behave like Neanderthals, but the normal, rational fan enjoyed the pot-pourri of different cultures present in the name of football. Qatar, which is scarcely a destination of choice for most folk, doesn’t really know what it is hosting – you can buy shameful celebrity endorsement, as we have seen, but does Qatar really understand the cultural and social significance?
It is early days, but it is feasible Qatar will be tested by the irrational emotions and passions of the game. Imagine if England struggle in their group games and the fans are disappointed. Supporters that have experienced the limitations. Will we see a reaction that forces the local security services to act? With so many people in a relatively confined space, how will Qatar react to crowd violence?
The World Cup will be a success, because we will be told that it was a success. FIFA will tell us, Qatar will tell us and enough celebrity puppets will come to the fore to say they had a “wonderful time”. But the truth is, FIFA have facilitated sportswashing and as the sport’s governing body, this act of folly is irresponsible and not in the best interests of the sport. Admittedly, some clubs are also guilty of this, but the difference is FIFA should be acting as guardians and gatekeepers.
Qatar has to realise scores of people will be digging for dirt and bad news will filter from the middle east every day of the World Cup. Why? Because that’s their job and it also helps justify them being there. Many journalists are uncomfortable about going to Qatar, and rightly so. Whether it all passes without a hitch or not, Qatar 2022 is simply wrong.