With booze bans and the non-payment of money to fans who were to be paid to promote it, this certainly is a World Cup like no other.
Of course, it isn’t really about the booze. The news that Qatar decided, with just a couple of days that their grand jamboree starts, that to allow supporters to have a beer while wilting in the November heat of their country was just a step too far for them is, really, something or nothing. No-one will really be shedding too many tears over that.
Having a beer may well be part of the culture of football the world over, but that was a whole part of the objections to the tournament going there in the first place, wasn’t it? Qatar doesn’t have that football culture in the first place. In a way, the alcohol ban is just a matter of Qatar being consistent. This is, after all, a Muslim country in which the consumption of alcohol is forbidden. Why should that change, just because the World Cup is being hosted there?
Even fewer people will have that much time for the complaints of sponsors, who were happy enough to climb aboard this grubby bandwagon in the first place, and whose caterwauling now seems blissfully unaware of the fact that their money is part of what made this cavalcade of decadence so unappealing in the first place. When Budweiser tweet ‘Well, this is awkward’, the obvious reply is, ‘Well, perhaps you shouldn’t have got involved in this grubby little mess in the first place, should you?’ They were quite happy to bask in the beer monopoly that FIFA had afforded them. Now they know how it feels to be frozen out, too.
It isn’t really about the non-payment of the Fan Payment Money that had been promised to supporters who have travelled to the place for this tournament, either. Few will have enormous amounts of sympathy for those who accepted the Qatari shilling in the first place, who were prepared to go out to bat for a country with a poor human rights record, missing out on the few extra dollars that they’d been promised per day. The organisers had blamed the decision on the bad press which followed the revelation that fans were being paid. ‘If you dance with the devil, then you haven’t got a clue, for you think you’ll change the devil, but the devil changes you.’
And if FIFA are left with egg on their faces by the single-mindedness of the tournament organisers and the government of the country in which the tournament is taking, well, there won’t be a great deal of sympathy there, either. From the moment that Sepp Blatter pulled open those two envelopes containing slips of paper with ‘Russia’ and ‘Qatar’ written on them more than a decade ago, they have leant into this tournament in the most bullish way possible, contorting the entire global football calendar for the sake of their own greed and avarice.
If there are causes to be alarmed by these sudden volte faces with just a couple of days left before the start of the 2022 World Cup, it’s the broken promises and the bare-faced nature of them. It has felt as though the message to be emanating from Qatar over the weeks building up to the start of the World Cup has been increasingly belligerent, as though the mask of being ‘welcoming hosts’ has been starting to melt under the heat of the scorching desert heat.
It may be debatable, whether any LGBTQ supporters would have swallowed the bait that they would be in any way accepted by the Qataris in the first place. Even if we remove the possibility that the tournament organisers might find a way to change their mind over their previous utterances on the subject, why would they want to go to a country in which who they are is illegal in the first place?
But on the off-chance that any did, they can surely be permitted a shudder at these sudden changes of mind on the part of the hosts. There have been some shocking revelations about the way in which LGBTQ people are treated in Qatar over the last few weeks and months. If you were choosing where to spend the equivalent of the cost of a small family car on a winter holiday, would you even give consideration to a country in which this is just considered a normal and acceptable way to treat people just like you, World Cup or not?
Some may have accepted all of their pronouncements that they would be safe at face value, and may now be worrying whether they’ll be able to hold their partners’ hands in public without receiving an unwelcome tap on the shoulder. Others may have have made the presence or otherwise of a cold beer to be a factor to be taken into account when deciding to spend thousands of pounds on travelling there themselves. It doesn’t have to have been the deciding factor. If it was factored into people’s equations in the first place, then they’ve been sold a pup.
It’s not about the fan money. It’s not about the booze. It’s not about corporate sponsors being let down, or FIFA being left looking like they’re not in control of their own tournament. It’s about the pattern of duplicity, and how far that may end up reaching. We were promised ‘a World Cup like no other’, and we’re certainly getting that.
It’s now been forty years since my first World Cup finals, and I’ve certainly never seen anything like this before. And I’ve not, well, not seen anything like this, either. Never has there been so little hype and build-up for a World Cup finals before, so little enthusiasm or joy for a tournament that usually find a way of tapping into the inner child in all of us.
Normally with less than 48 hours to go before the kick-off in a tournament like this the giddiness would be hanging heavy in the air. TV advertisements would be trying to pull those strings. Broadcasters would be breathlessly reminding us all of how many sleeps there were until it all under way. People who don’t like football would be complaining bitterly about the extent this stupid game was about to take over the airwaves and popular discourse for the next few weeks. Instead, there is a broad feeling of weary resignation about it all, a feeling that ‘can we just get this over with, please?’. They’ve certainly delivering us a World Cup like no other; a World Cup that even the tournament’s staunchest fans are finding difficult to impossible to stomach.