Preview: A World Cup in Qatar is not an aberration - It is football's logical end

The Qatar World Cup distills the essence of what the sport has become.

WELCOME, SO, TO The End of Innocence.

Kick off 4pm Irish time, 7pm local time. 

Get in your seats early, though - South Korean pop star Jung Kook of BTS is raising the curtain. 

fifa-world-cup-2022-previews-tuesday-15th-november The Qatar World Cup kicks off today. PA PA

International football is the world distilled, and hosting the world’s biggest show in one of its smallest countries has had a complementary, crystalising effect.

In a world consistently giving flesh to the absurd, the Qatar World Cup is a fitting emblem of the age. 

The decision to award the World Cup to Qatar twelve years ago felt like the sublimation of decades of moral turpitude at Fifa, the moment the House of Football had finally gotten too high on its own supply. Voting to hold the World Cup during the summer in the desert was the football administrative equivalent of Caligula appointing his favourite horse to the Senate. 

It was eventually moved to the winter, crammed into the middle of the European season to accentuate the authorities’ disregard for player welfare. As Fifa are now discovering, everything related to this World Cup appears malleable: the late-notice change in start date made redundant several Fifa sponsorship activations around there being 100 days to go to kick-off, while the promise of Budweiser being available at matches perished two days before the first match. The implications of this are about more than just beer. What other assurances given to Fifa will now suddenly be open to re-negotiation as the tournament progresses? 

Fifa’s apparently slack grasp of this tournament is a child of their light-touch incuriosity. According the Fifa Ethics reports conducted by American attorney Michael Garcia, minutes of two Executive Committee meetings prior to the bidding vote in 2010 show that none of the 22 men raised a single question about the summer heat in Qatar.

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who wrote an evaluation report on all the 2018 and 2022 bidders, highlighted the heat risk in Qatar for “players, spectators, officials, and the Fifa family”, but didn’t receive a single call from an ExCo member. 

That same report didn’t think to include labourers in that list of those at risk to the temperatures. In fact, Fifa didn’t even admit they had at least partial responsibility for the construction of World Cup stadia until 2015, when they signed up to a set of UN principles for human rights. Far from disavowing the Qatar World Cup, Sepp Blatter’s successor, Gianni Infantino, has literally moved to the country, and has recently displayed Fifa’s characteristic, breathtaking flexibility in relation to politics.

fifa-president-gianni-infantino-left-with-president-of-russia-vladimir-putin-in-the-stands Gianni Infantino with Vladimir Putin at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Having written to competing FAs to urge them to ‘stick to the football’, the supposedly apolitical Infantino turned up at the G20 summit calling for a World Cup-long ceasefire in the war in Ukraine. Earlier this year, he didn’t answer a question as to whether he has returned the Medal of Friendship presented to him at the Kremlin by Vladimir Putin in 2019.

Infantino paints his principles on an etch-a-sketch and judging by his extraordinary press conference on the eve of the tournament, he has now gone beyond mere expediency and evolved to late-stage shape-shifting. 

“Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker.” Nothing has ever so blatantly shown that Fifa’s claim to stand for everything actually means they stand for nothing.  

Infantino rounded on Western hypocrisy, claiming Europe should spend the next 3,000 years apologising for what has happened across the last 3,000 years instead of dispensing “moral lessons” – a stark illustration that the defensive whataboutery of TV and Twitter belligerents is also the attitude at the very top of the sport. Every past injustice involved silent tolerance of it, so the notion that fact invalidates action against any future wrong is enabling nonsense. Fifa might some day heed Seamus Heaney’s words that there is no such thing as innocent bystanding. 

paris-france-october-25-2022-neymar-jr-kylian-mbappe-lionel-messi-of-psg-celebrate-during-the-uefa-champions-league-group-h-football-match-between-paris-saint-germain-and-maccabi-haifa-on-octo Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi, three of this World Cup's biggest stars, play for the Qatar-owned PSG. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This World Cup has also distilled for all to see the clear enmeshing of sport and politics: that old fig leaf that ‘sport and politics don’t mix’ has withered and died with Qatar 2022 as few World Cups have ever been more obviously wielded as a political tool. This one is more than just a vehicle for sportswashing: the competition is a plank of Qatar’s nation-building, a way of advertising the country both to tourists but, most importantly, other governments. Qatar’s gas reserves are a gold mine, but its size and various neighbours makes it vulnerable: hosting the World Cup helps solidify its image in the West as its own, independent, inviolable nation state. 

There is no more fitting host for the sport as it’s currently constituted, either. Qatar’s investment in PSG is one of the most consequential events in the history of the sport, as its resources inflated transfer fees and wages to the point the established elite have tried to change the rules to remain competitive. Their Super League was more Trojan Donkey than Horse but its vestigial backers are fighting its case in the European courts and the preliminary judgement of a case that could fracture the game forever is due to be published three days before the World Cup final. 

Crystallised also is the fact that football is increasingly Not For You, following golf’s path in become a sport plucked by the rich from the rest. Supporters can’t drink beer in World Cup stadiums but the booze will keep on flowing in corporate suites and in the bars of up-market city-centre hotels, the kinds of hotels in which fans cannot afford to stay.

Instead they will sleep in flimsy tents, laid out side-by-side like a prisoner-of-war camp in the desert, beside motorways with special VVIP lanes approaching stadia. 

The matches won’t even be easily watched as the Qatari national broadcaster is charging a five-figure fee for any hotel or premises wishing to show them. With fans arranged on the outer edge, sponsors, executives and Fifa’s blazers will mingle in hotel bars and corporate suites: think of this as the Davos Economic Forum of World Cups. 

wcup-qatar-fan-village The 6,000-cabin fan village outside of Doha. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

Qatar itself also distills issues and questions facing us all. This is the $200 billion competition paid for by oil and gas, the same fuels that will eventually ensure this is not the first World Cup deemed too hot to be played in the summer. The dependency on the same gas that has built the World Cup has also tempered criticism of it. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for instance, praised Qatar’s labour reforms during a visit to pen a deal to replace the gas that Russia cut off, and when the German Interior Minister said last month that countries with a human rights record like Qatar shouldn’t host the World Cup, she returned a week later to say her comments were misinterpreted. 

Qatar is a deeply stratified society and here the separations are blatant, with the men that built a gleaming, air-conditioned city living cheek-by-jowl in thronged, unsanitary labour camps in the desert. But the only fact more shocking than the unknown number of dead labourers is the fact that people keep coming to Qatar for work. That is no justification of the opportunity in Qatar, it is an indictment of inequality on a global scale: 25% of Nepal’s national income comes in the form of remittance payments from citizens working abroad. 

Such is the concentration of outrage and obscenity, the actual football is fascinating and yet almost an afterthought, as fans first sit down for a conversation with their conscience before kick-off.

Football as escapism doesn’t work if the escapism is from the cost of staging the football in the first place; a kind of recursive moral loop, which at least makes the tournament symbol perversely fitting. 

doha-qatar-april-2022-three-flags-with-the-qatar-2022-fifa-world-cup-logo-waving-in-the-wind-the-event-is-scheduled-in-qatar-from-21-november-to-1 Flags bearing the 2022 World Cup logo flutter in the wind. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

How do you feel about it? Perhaps you’ll boycott it, or perhaps you’ll merely follow from a distance. You may tune in and find yourself queasy at the fact you’re enjoying the games, but don’t mistake this for a kind of complicity because it’s in fact a kind of exploitation. Fifa have devalued the World Cup but the sport remains a great broker of emotions: you remain entitled to your fair share. 

The Qatar World Cup looked an absurdity 12 years ago and may, in decades to come, be looked back upon as an oddity. But those living through it know that this is no aberration. This is football’s logical, disesteemed end, on parade for all to see. 

The portrait of the Qatar World Cup is ultimately captured in The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

“You are the type of what the age is searching for, and what it is afraid it has found.”  

For the latest news coverage on the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, see here >

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel