You wait years for a world cup and four come along at once. In recent weeks we’ve had world cups in women’s rugby union, men’s rugby league, T20 cricket – and now we’ve got the big one coming up – the long awaited 2022 FIFA World Cup in soccer, possibly the most controversial tournament ever and dubbed by Amnesty International as the “world cup of shame”
It will be the first world cup to be held in the Middle East, the first winter world cup (unless you count the world cups held in Argentina and South Africa during the southern hemisphere winter) and only the third tournament to be held outside the tradition of footballing strongholds of Europe and the Americas. And I think it’s also safe to assume that this is only time the world cup has been awarded to a country where half the host stadiums had yet to be built at the time of the successful bid – with the longest distance between any two stadiums being a mere 35 miles.
So let’s put it into context. A tiny peninsula, effectively a nodule protruding out of the Arabian landmass, an area smaller than Northern Ireland, and with a population similar to that of Greater Manchester is hosting one of the world’s biggest sporting events. Even much larger countries like Japan and South Korea had to jointly host the World Cup, yet this minuscule Gulf state gets to do it all by itself. Can this be right?
But coincidentally, Qatar is also oil rich. And despite the extensive news coverage revealing evidence of the Qatari authorities bribing the FIFA powers-that-be and various national football associations allegedly being “encouraged” to vote the “right way”, the decision remained unchanged.
But there was more to come.
We can live with a bit of bribery and corruption (you wouldn’t expect anything less from FIFA after all), but we should most definitely draw the line at the deaths of migrant workers and the appalling treatment many of them endured while working on infrastructure and real estate projects connected with the tournament.
To be fair though, some of the competing teams have taken something of a stand. The Australian squad has released a video in which some of the players speak out against Qatar’s alleged human rights abuses. Denmark has unveiled its deliberately dark kit in subdued colours as a message that the team will be playing in Qatar under protest.
Noble gestures indeed, but a more effective course of action would have been to boycott the tournament altogether.
And there will also be a bit of added controversy due to the fact that Iran, a country currently mired in a human rights storm will be taking part.
Yet blind eyes are constantly turned. The Qatari authorities have successfully managed to use David Beckham as a useful idiot to promote tourism in the country.
Thanks to the globalisation of football as a commercial brand you’re as likely to find a Manchester United supporter in Singapore or San Francisco as you are in Salford these days. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.
I won’t be paying much attention to the football itself in Qatar. The idea of a bunch of heavily tattooed millionaires wearing corporate logos who earn more in a month than most people could hope to earn in a decade kicking a ball around a stadium built using slave labour and full of even more corporate logos and corrupt officials doesn’t massively appeal to me anymore.
But I will be following the reaction of the international community and how the political situation unfolds with great interest.
Ciaran Ward is from Co. Tyrone and is now based in London where he works in the data protection/cybersecurity field. His latest book “On Square Routes”, a collection of memoirs, travel writing, short stories and poetry has just been published and is now available from Amazon.