THE GOLDEN goose is dead, laying on a lakeside in Switzerland or maybe in a desert somewhere. The ghost of World Cups past, with a number 16 on its heavily-sponsored back, tries to warn the stricken bird, but it is too late, FIFA’s premier competition is on the point of exploding, fattened by gavage, choked by excess.
We’ve long known that the World Cup was getting out of hand, but the draw for Qatar 2022 demonstrated just how uninteresting a 32-team format really is. The recipe is simple: 1 seeded nation, carefully shaken and garnished; add a team of nearly men; throw in a hopeful but be careful of the mix; and then to top it off, a makeweight for some artificial colour. That’s what makes a group for the World Cup finals.
The media desperately tries to find a group of death every time there’s a draw, but it is getting harder and harder. Football has become a game with few shocks these days, be it club football or the international game. England came out with a weak group although nobody wanted to use that word, preferring to call it, “intriguing” or “satisfactory”.
Like the Champions League, the interest only starts to bubble in the World Cup when the group stage is out of the way. For two weeks, the ritual 1-0 or 2-0 slaughtering of weaker sides takes place while the TV pundits, still stuck in a 1970 paradigm, try to persuade us that “watching Brazil is all samba and soccer”. They talk up the preliminaries when by the time the third round of matches is upon us, we have had enough of David v Goliath narratives.
The draw, a prolonged and unnecessary ceremony which really isn’t a case of shaking-up the balls as they just spin around in plastic dishes, was tedious beyond belief. The Avatar-type presenters (including the incredibly rising Jermaine Jenas), were perfectly groomed and scripted.
While they (pundits, presenters and contracted ambassadors) kept telling us Qatar is a beautiful country (it may well be) and that fans will have a wonderful time if they attend, it was difficult to get out of your mind this is a far from ideal situation. Miguel Delaney of the Independent got it right when he said: “Tantalising World Cup draw adds first layer of gloss to Qatar’s morally bankrupt tournament”.
FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino tried to bring statesmanship into the occasion, calling for leaders to get together to resolve the war in Ukraine while claiming 2022 would see the greatest World Cup of them all as the world becomes united in Qatar. Such naivety really explains why FIFA are in such a mess, losing support and credibility by the tournament. Football has, due to its insatiable appetite for cash at all costs, sold its soul, courting regimes and leaders with very questionable human rights records. Instead of promoting a clean-up of the game, FIFA instead prefers to justify its decision-making process.
And so Qatar continues to divide opinion, but there can be no question some football people do feel uncomfortable about 2022. Will they do anything about it? Let’s not forget that British football has been making gestures for the past few years about issues it feels strongly about, such as taking the knee. The background to the BLM-prompted action came from the problems in the US. In Qatar, society is deeply divided and racism, sexism and homophobia are rife, but we don’t see it across our screens. And yet, this hasn’t moved football to show its displeasure on a grand scale apart from wearing t-shirts of protest. Real action demands brave and unselfish displays, and that would include refusing to support Qatar 2022. Anyone with a social conscience or knowledge of the politics and social climate should find it hard to align themselves to this particular World Cup. The financial benefits are obvious, but did FIFA ever ask itself if awarding hosting rights to Qatar was the right thing to do?