Will our conscience allow us to watch this World Cup?

Expect. The World Cup starts in six days?

You know, the one played over a month with 32 national football teams, with 1.2 million fans converging on the host country, with an estimated global TV audience of 5 billion, with 200 billion dollars in infrastructure projects, with seven new stadiums, a new airport, a new driverless metro system, new highways, 100 new hotels.

Six days.

Can white elephants surprise you in the desert?

Part of that is timing. When FIFA, the sport’s omnipotent (and unscrupulous) governing body, awarded the planet’s premier sporting event to tiny Persian Gulf country Qatar, it seemingly forgot that the World Cup is traditionally held in June. and that the average high temperature in June is 107 degrees. .

The dates were therefore changed from November 21 to December 18, when it was only in the 90s. In August, the local organizers realized that Qatar were not actually playing in the first match and, wanting all the spotlight on themselves, moved it to November 20 – not to mention that tens of thousands of people had already booked plane tickets and hotels.

There’s a reason major international events always take place in the same windows. The Summer Olympics are held in late July and early August, when the European soccer leagues are in their offseason and the NFL has yet to start. The Winter Olympics open in mid-February, the week after the Super Bowl. The World Cup takes place in June, when the football leagues are over, the weather in the northern hemisphere is pleasant, children are out of school and people are taking vacations.

But at the end of November? In the United States, there is no busier time on the sports calendar. NFL teams are battling for playoff spots. College football has conference championships and bowl games. The NBA and NHL are one month into their season. College basketball has begun (there are 56 Division I games on Nov. 20). High school sports are in full swing.

In Europe, the major football leagues all played this weekend. Players hit with a truncated schedule to accommodate the six-week World Cup break will get on planes, fly to Qatar, train once or twice… and start playing on Sunday. The United States opens on Monday. Mexico opens on Tuesday.

It feels forced, rushed, contrived, contrived. It’s weird. It’s bad.

“I think for everyone, players and fans,” Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes said on Sunday after playing a Premier League game for Manchester United, “this is not the best time”.

The bigger question is, is there ever a right time for a World Cup in Qatar?

Sixty years ago it was an impoverished British protectorate in the Persian Gulf, a desolate peninsula of sand, fig trees and pearl divers. It’s about the size of Connecticut. The predominantly Muslim population numbers 2.5 million, of whom less than 300,000 are genuine Qatari citizens. Only 1.1% of its land mass is considered arable. The CIA World Factbook describes the climate as “arid” with “common sandstorms”.

Homosexuality is illegal, punishable by imprisonment. Alcohol is rare. Women usually wear head coverings. General elections were instituted only last year. Citizenship is not guaranteed by birth, except by your father (but not by your mother).

“For me it’s clear: Qatar is a mistake,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said last week when selecting the host for the 2022 World Cup. is a country too small. Football and the World Cup are too big for that.

Blatter, in his defence, favored the United States for 2022 and privately lobbied the 24 FIFA Executive Committee members who voted for World Cup hosts. But he is not without guilt. It was the shameless system of corruption he encouraged that Qatar exploited, getting enough votes by, ahem, currying favor not with him but with ExCo members from Africa, d Asia, the Caribbean and even Europe.

Don’t blame Qatar, which at the time had a 112-ranked men’s national teame in the world and no women’s team. He was just playing by the rules laid down decades earlier by FIFA and the International Olympic Committee for the sake of staging his signature events. It’s a small country looking for ways to spend the sudden riches of massive natural gas reserves, and what better way to imprint your existence on the global consciousness than by hosting its most popular sporting event?

Salt Lake City and the mighty United States, it is well documented, bribed their way to a Winter Olympics in 2002. How about a World Cup in Qatar?

“You know,” Blatter once said, “it’s easy to control football when it’s played on the field, because you have a referee, you have a time limit and you have limits. But off the field of play, you don’t have a referee, you don’t have a time limit and you don’t have limits.”

Blatter should therefore not have been surprised at the 2010 FIFA Congress, when he received a sealed envelope with the host of the 2022 tournament. He opened it and, turning it towards the cameras, took out a card to reveal the name of the country.

The audience gasped.

The world gasped.

If Qatar miscalculated, it was because by making the world notice it, the world noticed it. All.

The monarchy and its Islamic-leaning policies – no homosexuality, no alcohol, reduced rights for women – drew expected eyebrows. But what really caught the West’s attention was less what it was building for $200 billion than who was building it.

Qatar, like other oil-rich Gulf countries, has adopted the kafala system, a kind of indentured bondage that tackles Asia’s vast economic inequalities. Construction companies recruit migrant workers from Nepal, Bangladesh or Sir Lanka, where people live on as little as $5 a day, and bring them to the Gulf to build skyscrapers, roads, subways and now football stadiums. Living conditions are poor, hours are long, temperatures are north of 120 degrees, unions are non-existent. Oh, and you can’t leave without your employer’s permission.

An English newspaper reported that 6,500 workers had died in World Cup construction projects. Qatar and FIFA said it was three, saying the total number of deaths came from the entire migrant community and that per capita death rates were in line with other countries.

Under international pressure, Qatar caved in 2019 and decided to abolish kafala. He raised the minimum wage and created an insurance fund for the families of injured and deceased workers that he says has paid out $271 million in payments this year.

Qatar’s other miscalculation is the current global culture of heightened sensitivity to human rights violations, whether domestic or international. What was ignored, even tolerated, in the past is no longer so. Abu Dhabi and Dubai were built the same way. Qatar, hosts of the World Cup, did not get the same pass.

Sportswashing – the use of sport to whitewash the image of a country or company – has been around since the Greeks and Romans. Suddenly, that’s a dirty word.

Current FIFA President Gianni Infantino has written a letter to the football associations of the 32 competing teams, discouraging any form of political protest and urging them to “let football take center stage”. It’s an age-old formula from past Olympics and World Cups with disturbing tales, the theory being that once the cauldron is lit or the first ball is kicked, sport magically becomes the opium of the masses. .

Will it be this time? With eight NBA games, 12 NFL games and 56 college basketball games on Sunday? With Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping and school exams? With freezing conditions across the northern hemisphere preventing the festive outdoor watch parties in city squares that defined World Cups past June? With struggling American and Mexican teams that failed to inspire their fans?

With ethical sandstorms?

You have six days to decide.

Leave a Comment