FIFA’s Qatari Disgrace

by Ray_North on September 27, 2013

Unknown-2I was sulking the other night.
I know I was.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ asked Mrs North, ‘nothing,’ I answered sulkily, ‘I’m just tired.’ Which was partly right; work is mental, and I was feeling fatigued, but that wasn’t why I was sulking. No. I knew exactly why I was sitting in bed, grumpily reading a book and harrumphing to myself – it was because Liverpool had lost to Man United.

It is absurd.

It is sport.

Regret and tragedy and triumph – those were the things going through my head as I sat there ruminating on the defeat: regret – that we had not scored when we had the chance to; tragedy, that we had lost the match and triumph, denied to me, denied to us, but enjoyed by our bitter rivals – that is why I was sulking.

It is sport.

And football, whether we like it or not, has a drug-like ability to enhance these feelings – the regret is rendered profound by the massively small margins of error or genius, skill or calamity that can determine the outcome of the match – one offside, one deflection, one bad refereeing decision, one slip in the penalty area. The feeling of tragedy becomes unbearable as we watch the other team celebrate their goal, their victory – and we want that, we want that bestial feeling of triumph as the ball rips into the net.

And on Wednesday for me, it was regret and tragedy rather than triumph, and that is the real reason why I was sulking.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time that a sporting occasion has effected in me in this way, and it certainly won’t be the last (it probably won’t be the last time this week) – so why put myself through it? Well, to me, and forgive me for getting all amateur psychologist about this – the triumph, tragedy and regret of sport, mirrors the human condition – we can’t turn back time, we can’t re-live our mistakes, we strive towards triumphs big and small and we hail the conquers who become our heroes. Football represents tribe and belonging, it represents the beauty of a youth we fleetingly had and the decay which is our collective fate – it is important, it does matter. It is not absurd. Without the tragedy, without the regret, football, indeed all sports or games would become a simple function like eating or enjoying a good walk.

Football matters precisely because the wonderful feeling of success of victory is made sweeter by the dejection of loss, tragedy and regret.

And those feelings unite many of us.

And that is precisely why the World Cup really matters – the World Cup is the one time when these feelings are shared all over the globe – from the villages of Ghana to the Favelas of Montevideo, the pubs of Hackney to the all-night coffee shops of Madrid, the World Cup matters.

I’ve spoken about this before, for me, one of my seminal educational moments of my childhood was watching the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and realising that the world was a majestic, colourful emotional, chaotic place, and that people, who were singing and throwing ticker-tape and swearing and smiling were intriguing. It opened up a world to me that was different from my childhood.

The World Cup can do that – and that is because it matters and why it matters.

It is why the country hosting the world cup must have a history of football, they must surely get the importance of it, understand the culture, accept the passion, understand the passion the tribal, the stupidity of it all. It is why the country hosting the world cup must also embrace the football – the matches have got to be as good and as competitive as they possibly can be and the atmosphere in the grounds must, surely, be more fervid than ever, because this is the world bloody cup.

In 2022, the world cup will be held in Qatar.

I’ve never been to Qatar, I’m sure it’s a lovely place. But, one thing it isn’t is a football nation. The Qatar national football team have never played in a world cup (they did, interestingly win the world youth cup about thirty years ago, but whatever happened to that collection of players, is a mystery to me). The Qatari’s have no clubs with supporters who enjoy visceral hate for the lot down the road for the simple reason that their Dad did, and their granddad and their uncle Bill who once had a trial for them – and, oh what could have been. Nor, do they have the stadia which little boys dream of playing in and supporters dream of visiting – wonderfully crafted I’m sure, but, football stadia? No, you have to have some history to call yourself that.

The players will be forced to play either in the middle of the night or, in the winter because it is simply too hot for sport, or they will have to endure temperatures of over 40 degrees – 40 degrees! You can’t make a lung-bursting run in heat like that. The game will be diminished. And, with it, the feeling of tragedy or regret of triumph.

The fans who visit Qatar will not be allowed to drink, they will not be allowed to sing their songs, they will not be allowed the freedom of expression that comes with the absurdity of football. Gay fans will know that they are, by virtue of the laws of Qatar criminals, and women fans will have to ‘dress and behave modestly and in accordance to custom.’

Sure, I get that, I respect all of that – but, that is why Qatar shouldn’t be hosting the World Cup and the decision to award them the World Cup of 2022 is actually an international disgrace. Sure, I get the argument about how important it is to bring the world of football to new places, and I understand the desire to ensure that it can be run as a commercial success etc.

But, let’s not kid ourselves, these are not the reasons that Qatar got the World Cup in 2022, Qatar got the World Cup because they paid the right amounts of money to the right people at the right time. For decades we have been hearing about the corruption that exists at the centre of FIFA. We have heard stories about bungs and bribes and bullying and the decision to give the World Cup to Qatar is surely the final straw.

FIFA has an incredibly privileged role in international affairs – without any armies or diplomatic aim or political agenda it has massive power – because it gets to run the greatest sporting event in the world, it gets the chance to unite people behind the enjoyment of a game – and that is why it is so tragic to see this body being subjugated by greed and diminished by those who put money before the triumph, tragedy and regret of football.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East September 27, 2013 at 11:18 am

…and that’s before you even get into the issue of slave labour being used to build its stadia. FIFA are a disgrace.

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Eddie Kaye September 27, 2013 at 11:25 am

Great piece Ray – going from the sublime to the ridiculous in 8 years. 2014 – Brazil, 4 times world cup winners, the country of Pele, Zico, Socrates et al, site of the Maracana. 2022 – Qatar! Whatever my feelings about Putin’s Russia, at least they have a semblence of a football heritage to justify the 2018 stopover.

Picking up on your point about women and gay fans – where does this leave the camapigns there have been to increase participation? I am sure that giving the centre piece of world football to a part of the world that treats women, gay people and its migrant (almost slave) workforce like shit is really the way to go.

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Eddie Kaye September 27, 2013 at 11:33 am

I missed the word ‘not’ somewhere out of the last rather long sentence – DOH!

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George_East September 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I don’t have any difficulty with Russia hosting it from a footballing perspective – they have a great footballing tradition. However, the gay rights point, which the IOC seem so keen to ignore in respect of the 2014 Winter Games, is almost as live there as in Qatar.
The tragedy of so much of top level sport is the corruption, incompetence and sheer venality of so many of the governing bodies.

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Middle East September 27, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Written from the perspective of someone who has never lived, or probably visited, Qatar or the Middle East. A bit patronizing and full of assumptions which are not all true.
on the question of slave labour; the men who travel to Qatar, Bahrain , UAE etc to take these jobs do so because the prospects and rewards offer a better chance than they would get domestically. Conditions are often shite when viewed from a western, developed, democratic country perspective but these jobs often mean progression for the families of the workers.
An entertaining opinion piece, but not real fact based journalism.

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Ray_North September 27, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Middle East, first are you related to George East?
Second, thank you for your response – you are right in that I’ve never ben to Qatar, and you are probably right to criticise my piece as not being a fact based piece of journalism – though it’s not meant to be, it is written from the perspective of a football fan a sports fan – and nothing more. And, sadly, as a football fan, I am yet to see any merit in the world cup going to Qatar.If I am wrong in 2022, I promise, I’ll be the first to admit it.

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Middle East September 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Hi Ray,
the merits of the Qatar bid are not under debate. The fact that FIFA , and in particular Blatter, can be so easily swayed (or manipulated ,..or bribed!) just meant that the Qatari bid , with a few more oil dollars behind it could jump to the front of the queue.
If ‘having history’ and tradition (as per England and Scotland) were the most important factors then the WC wouldn’t move around very far and as the 2002 Japan/Korea Mundial showed the ‘new’ nations can also put on a good show.
I say until 100% transparency of bids can be enforced, (and I’m not holding my breath), then how can the beautiful game hope to attract a more diverse global audience.
Also the crowds in the Middle East can be as passionate and vocal as any others – without the fuel driven undertones of violence and foul language – which can often be seen as a positive.
p.s. as a fellow Reds supporter I thought we were unlucky not to get something out of Weds night. But very lucky to get even a point at Abertawe.

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Ray_North September 27, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Middle,
I’ve thought long and hard about the point ‘no heritage and history’ no world cup – and, of course, your example of Korea and Japan is entirely well founded – but, there are many many countries who do have a really great pedigree who may be able to justify it before Qatar – I recently watched a game in Istanbul – crikey, what an atmosphere there was there! Amazing. And with the amount of money that FIFA has, i’m sure that it is not beyond them to redistribute it to the host country rather than make money from the host country.
I’m very sceptical about Qatar, and the news this week about slave labour working in the country just added to my concern that, like so many other things, the World Cup is now being dominated by those who want to make a few quid rather than those who want to make a contribution to the common good.

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Charlie_East_West September 29, 2013 at 6:23 am

So FIFA, what first attracted you to the multi-trillionaire Qatar?

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