Why the beautiful game must call World Cup hosts Qatar to account
Posted by  badge Boss on Nov 19
We’re here for the football but must still call out Qatar and FIFA (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Welcome to the of dilemma and contradiction. Unusually under the radar and yet already infamous at the same time.

A tournament whose controversial host has compelled many to say they won’t go or even watch. Commendable actions exhibiting moral fibre of which the rest of us, watching in our billions, can only dream. If Fifa was an evil cartoon genius this would be the beauty of its dastardly plan.

Because the World Cup is the World Cup and therefore as near as dammit bombproof and unsurpassable when it comes to entertainment, prestige, history, nostalgia and sheer fairytale appeal. So does that mean by giving in and tuning in we hand victory to the grubby backroom dealers, the callous construction bosses and the homophobic host nation?

Well, no because we can celebrate the beauty without ignoring the ugly side, we can bask in the football and still call out everything that is wrong about 2022. It’s not like we haven’t been here before. In 1978, the brutal military junta running World Cup host Argentina cleared slums and tortured political prisoners while welcoming the world to a tournament they claimed was being played under a sign of peace.

And, as the glut of retrospective documentaries point out, Italia 90 was supposed to be an ill-starred occasion played out against the gloomy backdrop of hooliganism and ended with one of the most turgid finals on record yet has still earned a special place in the national memory. can do that.

Dim and distant past? Hardly. Four years ago Fifa and football doffed their cap to Vladimir Putin, a far more abhorrent figure than anyone we’re likely to see in Qatar over the next four weeks.

The construction of stadiums in Qatar has been highly controversial (Picture: Reuters)

The last World Cup took place in a country that had already invaded neighbouring Ukraine (annexing Crimea in 2014) but the tournament received largely positive reviews – the ever-smiling Fifa chief Gianni Infantino, returning to the Kremlin a year later to receive a medal from Putin, thanked Russia for hosting ‘the best World Cup ever’.

The same Fifa chief – who moved to Qatar earlier this year and sends his children to school in the capital Doha – last week wrote to the 32 qualifying teams asking them to: ‘Please, let’s now focus on the football. Please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.’

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Because, obviously people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual are simply fighting a ‘political battle’ and anyone highlighting the thousands of migrant workers estimated to have been killed in the construction of Qatar’s infrastructure and the punitive, slave-like working condition and employment status of those lucky enough to survive unscathed are just dragging football into an ‘ideological dispute’.

Fifa chief Gianni Infantino recently moved to the Qatar capital, Doha (Picture: Getty)

While Khalid Salman, the Qatar 2022 ambassador who described homosexuality as ‘damage in the mind’ would be best advised to stick to football, tournament organisers may have some justification when they suggest previous World Cup hosts have never faced the kind of scrutiny currently bearing down on the Middle East.

But that doesn’t make us wrong to ask more searching questions than might previously have been the case. One thing Qatar can be said to have done for football and its attendant fans and media is up our game when it comes to asking questions of host bidders bearing gifts.

If Qatar sees the World Cup as a hugely expensive ad campaign, a four-week chance to promote a soft-focus version of their country on the global stage then the rest of us are equally entitled to use the same opportunity to highlight the hard edges of the Qatari story.

This year’s Winter Olympics in China showed it is possible to voice disapproval of a country’s oppressive ruling regime and appalling record on human rights while still celebrating the sporting excellence the athletes produce in the expensive facilities the host nation provides.

Watching England matches could be problematic for fans of League One and Two clubs (Picture: PA)

So, while the TV anchors and commentators are now too savvy to gloss over the controversy and scandal, we shouldn’t condemn them for also talking up the football, it’s what they and us are here for. Incongruous as it may seem with our unwelcome host and the nights setting in, a World Cup is about to begin and, on balance, that is still a very good thing.

It’s bound to be different – not unequivocally wrong, just different. How will players who just five days ago were hurtling into each other in the elite leagues of a European autumn cope with the change in climate and context? How will their coaches adapt with such limited preparation time?

And it’s not just the teams and fans in Qatar processing a new reality. The Premier League and Championship may have paused but the lower leagues go on.
Next Saturday features four World Cup group games and a full second-round programme. King’s Lynn v Stevenage or Poland v Saudi Arabia? I’m not sure I know the answer.

Fans will have to decide between club and country during the tournament (Picture: Getty)

The following week it gets even harder. If England finish second in Group B they’ll kick off their last-16 tie at 3pm on December 3 – the same time as seven games are scheduled to begin in League One and League Two. England v Ecuador or Crawley v Swindon? Club versus country is about to get a whole new meaning.

Whoever your club, though, the World Cup will dominate the lives of most fans until the final on December 18. We’re not going to celebrate Qatar and we certainly won’t be eulogising Fifa, who seem to think a global tournament involving the world’s best footballers would be impossible without their help. We’re here to talk about the football and the footballers.

Will dominating possession or high-octane pressing win out, how much effect will the heat have on proceedings? Will the World Cup ultimately be decided by the best player (Maradona in 1986), the best team (Spain in 2010) or both (Zidane and France in 1998, Brazil and Ronaldo in 2002).

Could the legendary Lionel Messi lead his team to a long-awaited World Cup win? (Picture: Getty)
Surely World Cup glory has passed Cristiano Ronaldo by? (Picture: Reuters)

That tournament in Japan and South Korea – 20 years ago now – was the last not to feature Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. The latter’s chance of World Cup glory has surely gone, the 37-year-old this week literally raging against the dying of the light, but could 2022 be the year Messi finally gets his hands on the famous gold trophy?

The Argentine, 35, has won everything the club game has to offer and, having broken his international duck in last year’s Copa America, still wields enough on-field influence to drag the Albicelestes to the greatest prize.

And with the sainted duo of Messi and Ronaldo surely playing in their final World Cup, which young star will emerge as world football’s standard-bearer? Vinicus Jr, with a stellar Brazil team behind him, looks best placed to propel himself to superstardom but Spanish schemer Pedri and even German teen prodigy Jamal Musiala could stake a claim. Kylian Mbappe, a winner in 2018 and still only 23, is not going anywhere soon. And then there’s England.

Will Qatar be remembered as a tournament too far for Southgate’s strong and stable management, or the one where the youthful vigour and outstanding ability of Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham changed the narrative around the Three Lions forever?

On and off the field over the next four weeks we will not be short of storylines and whether it’s the light or the shade, the beauty or the ugly, we should not be ashamed to talk about them.

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