The World Cup, the most prestigious and world renowned tournament in sport. Only the Olympic Games can compete with it in popularity. Viewed and loved by billions across the globe from the fanatical who’ll travel half way around the globe to watch a game between Ukraine and Paraguay, to the Mammy who’ll decorate the corner house in bunting. There is the sense of tangible magic or excitement that comes over you when a World Cup is on the horizon, especially if your country is one of the participating nations. While the Champions League is perhaps the zenith of global football, the World Cup provides a relative refuge from the diluted, business-like and pressure cooker environment of club football.
The World Cup means an awful lot to a lot of people, in fact the game of football in it’s purist form as a whole does. It brings joy, a sense of community, friendships, rivalries, and everything in between. It’s called the beautiful game for a good reason. It’s our game, therefore, we need to trust that the people who make the important decisions in the game are making fair, transparent and morally correct decisions on behalf of football fans everywhere, the billions of people who make football the global sport that is it, which in turn keeps football a viable means for Infantino and co.
On the 2nd December 2010, an unprecedented decision was made to determine the host nations of two World Cups. The ballot was to be revealed in the same lavish ceremony. Russia was given the distinction of hosting the 2018 competition. As for 2022, Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States, four powerhouse nations with readymade infrastructure, sporting culture and capabilities of hosting millions of tourists were turned down in favour of the bid of……..Qatar.
It didn’t make sense then. Quite frankly with the passage of seven years, it seems even more baffling a decision now. Let’s dissect the many reasons why in my view, this decision to award the greatest sporting competition in the world is a complete and utter farce.
Let’s start with the size of the country. Qatar is 11,571 square kilometres. To put that into perspective, it’s half the size of Munster. It’s by a distance the smallest country to stage the competition. Uruguay and Switzerland have hosted World Cup’s in 1930 and 1954 respectively, but that was before the World Cup became the 32 country global event it has become today. Every World Cup since Italia 90 has been attended by at least 2.5 million people, with the highest attended tournament being USA 94 attended by 3,587,538 people. If, and it is a big if, the 2022 World Cup is to attract that number of visitors, can anyone really say with complete confidence that Qatar, a country with a population of just over 2.5 million, will be able to cope with that influx of people?
It also appears FIFA have either ignored, or quietly disregarded one of their own rules regarding eligibility. The rule being that a country should be required to spread a tournament over several different cities. England in their 2018 bid, for example, proposed stadiums like Derby’s Pride Park and Stadium MK in Milton Keynes, in favour of stadiums like Emirates and Stamford Bridge, because they were able to propose only one stadium for London, which would obviously be Wembly. Not only do Qatar not have to meet the criteria for spreading the tournament over 8-12 host cities, there’s not even that many cities in the country. In fact, the city that is scheduled to host the opening ceremony and the final, doesn’t exist yet. It’s going to be called Lusail, and it’s currently under development, scheduled for completion in 2020. Questions surly must be raised about how on earth it is to be expected an entire city can be built from scratch in such a short space of time, in such conditions, but I will touch on that later.
One of FIFA’s justifications for awarding the competition to Qatar was to facilitate the spread of soccer across the globe. That’s fair enough…..although awarding the tournament to Australia would have made it the sixth continent to host it, but I digress. After controversy involved in the voting process of the 2006 World Cup, FIFA decided that going forward, all confederations would get a turn at hosting in rotation. Therefore, the bidders for the 2010 and 2014 were all members from the African and South American confederations respectively. FIFA then ambiguously decided that it was going to drop its rotation policy after 2014, allowing any nation to bid under the proviso that a country in their confederation has not hosed one of the last two tournaments, so no country from Africa or South America could bid. Clear enough? So, Russia, being a European confederate in 2018 and Qatar being an Asian confederate in 2022 are eligible to apply. One of the host cities in Russia 2018 is Yekaterinburg, which is closer in distance to Beijing then it is to Dublin. However, it’s not in Asia, it’s in Europe because FIFA tell us it is. Fair play lads.
Moving on from the Geographical reasons, there is the ethical reasons. Qatar is a country with an appalling human rights record. It is a country under Sharia Law. It’s treatment of women as second class citizens is well known. Public flogging in commonplace for public consumption of alcohol and displays of affection. If you like bacon buttys, you can forget about in Qatar. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by stoning. There is also the small matter of what to do if Israel qualify, as the state if Israel is not recognised by Qatar.
I was in Paris for Euro 2016, the atmosphere on the streets of the Moulin Rouge, the buzz and excitement created by thousands of fellow fans having the time of their lives is something I’m going to take to the grave with me as one of the best experiences of my life. There’s not a hope that kind of camaraderie or ‘craic’ will be tolerated in Qatar. The delegation committee for Qatar tell us that alcohol will be served in regulated amounts and in designated fanzones, but what does this mean? Can we trust that if there’s a few hundred fellas who stray from their hotel and out onto a street, and erupt in a Come On You Boys in Green, or Ole Ole Ole, or indeed Yaya/Kolo Toure sing song, they won’t be taken in by local police and given 100 lashes? What about a woman who has the audacity to rock up in a skirt, or god forbid, a swimsuit to get a bit of a tan? Homosexuals who want to attend, maybe they should just take Sepp’s helpful advice, go to Qatar, and just not be gay for a few weeks?
Qatar are facing a race against the clock to have their facilities, infrastructure, stadiums and even cities built up to standard in time for the party. There is no doubt that they can afford the cost with the amount of disposable income Qatar has. The World Cup is estimated to set the Qatari government back $220 million dollars. However, the race against time is another issue, it takes time and planning to get a country that is ill-equipped to host a tournament up to scratch, it isn’t going to happen overnight. As of the time of this article, only two of the proposed stadiums have been completed, the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha and the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan. If you search for the names of the other ten proposed stadiums, you will see beside their names “planned” or “under construction”.
It also takes labour for these plans to come to fruition. A lot of labour. The systematic abuse of migrant workers from countries like India, Nepal and Bangladesh is well documented. Allegations that the Qatari authorities have turned a blind eye to slave labour have been a persistent story in the global media. The grim reality is that, migrant workers are under severe pressure to build a country that is somewhat capable of hosting a World Cup, in conditions that no human being should be able to function (heat in Qatar can reach 50 degrees Celsius, which I will also touch on later) and for little or no money. The fact is that people are dying at an exponential rate. In 2015, the Washington Post put together a chart illustrating the death toll of people, mostly men who were forced to leave their family’s behind in other countries, involved in the construction of the infrastructure. The number at the time stood at 1,200 people. Suffice to say, if that report is in any way accurate, the death toll right now is well into four figures, and counting.
The World Cup is traditionally held between the Northern Hemisphere summer months of June and July. This creates another problem with the Qatar bid, notably that summer conditions in Qatar would render it virtually impossible to play football, and would also prove to be extremely uncomfortable to visiting fans not accustomed to the heat of the Middle East in the summer. A few fanciful proposals were mooted by the Qatari bidding team, such as air conditioned stadiums to cool the players and fans down, as well as moveable ‘lunch-box stadiums’, which could be pulled from their foundations, packed into an aircraft and sold off to club teams who are looking for a 60,000 seater grounds. Both proposals seem to have fallen by the wayside, in favour of another ground-breaking precedent. On 24th February 2015, it was announced that the World Cup will take place in the Northern Hemisphere winter months of November and December. For FIFA to announce that the World Cup is to change the months it should take place in such an arbitrary and whimsical manner, four years after the fact, is not so much a shifting of the goalposts but rather a tearing down of the goal, a disregard of the rules that all bidding countries had to adhere to, and a slap in the face of every committee member of failed bids.
I’m not even going to go into detail the inconvenience of the many Football Associations who will have to re-schedule their football seasons to accommodate this sideshow.
I have never attended a World Cup, it is something I have wanted to for as long as I’ve been a football fan. 2022 provides perhaps my ideal opportunity to attend one. I am in a situation in life where I can put money aside for myself and plan time off to get to see one, I may not have that opportunity to do so after 2022, family reasons or other such reasons could prevent me. However, as it stands, I have no desire to ever set foot in Qatar. Now, you might say the tone of my article is bitter, it is to a certain extent. I have problems with the ideals of a country like Qatar and for them to get the opportunity to host a World Cup is something I personally object to. However, I cannot stress this point enough, I would swallow my pride and accept the fact that it’s being staged there, if the bid was won fairly, transparently, unambiguously and if it was clearly the correct decision to host it there. This is blatantly not the case however, the whole Qatar 2022 bidding campaign stinks to high heaven.
Let’s take a look at the FIFA executives who voted for or defended the decision to award the tournament to Qatar; Sepp Blatter, Michele Platini, Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, Franz Beckenbaur, Mohamed Bin Hamman to name but a few. A blind man on a galloping horse is aware of the speculation of brown envelops of cash or other chattel being given to some of these men in exchange for votes. The fact all the above men, and other similar executives have all been the subject of FBI investigations, and have been banned from football activities for varying periods of time, some banned for life, tells you all you need to know about the ethics of these individuals.
So where do we go from here? It’s been seven years since the decision has been made to host the World Cup in Qatar. It seems that things are too far gone to just randomly pull out on a whim, although this is FIFA we’re talking about. The timeframe to switch to another host nation is diminishing by the day. If, for example, the stories of Qatar being ostracised by neighbouring countries for links to terrorism, indeed being ostracised by any other country who are opposed to terrorism. If it turns out that the construction of the stadiums or infrastructure is too far behind schedule to go ahead with the tournament, what is to be done in these situations? Would FIFA be in breach of contract to the Qatari’s if they ever pull out? Do they even care, there seems to be an alarming ambivalence on FIFA’s part to the obvious issues staring them in the eye. There is a very strong possibility that an issue could reveal itself within in the next five years which could render the hosting of the World Cup in Qatar untenable, do FIFA have a contingency plan in place? And would other countries not be well within their right to tell FIFA where to go? Another fine mess you’ve got us into FIFA.
There are people who will support the World Cup in Qatar, and there will be an even more sizeable portion of people who won’t care either way as long as they can watch it. That’s fine, I believe personally it’ll be the most poorly attended and viewed World Cup in decades, as I believe there is many football fans who will agree with the points made in this article. I will not be watching, discussing or taking any interest in the 2022 World Cup campaign from a football aspect, and I can be held to account on that. I know that by doing this it means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, and a few hundred people switching off their televisions isn’t going to dent FIFA’s coffers.
What will concern FIFA is if sales of Coca-Cola drop by a few million units per week. If visitors to McDonalds drop by a few hundred thousand per week. If people decide to just stop buying Hyundai’s. There are a lot of big companies who are happy to pay FIFA sponsorship money because of the popularity of the game of football.
If FIFA becomes a toxic entity for sponsors to be associated with, then and only then can any improvements be made to the governing of football. Blatter and Co can be replaced and banned, but the core principles and the gravy train that is FIFA carry on, as long as football fans continue to make football a viable business.
Without trying to sound too romantic about it, football is the beautiful game, which as I stated at the beginning of the article, is a game that belongs to the people, and not to the bureaucrats who sit in Zurich. Is it too much to ask for to be given clear, direct direction from the people, who preach Fair Play, whom we trust to make correct decisions that benefit the game, and promote the game to everyone?