The World Cup is no longer an anxiety dream but a looming hot, dry, immoral, ugly reality

Editor F365
World Cup sign in Qatar

Is FIFA’s most controversial competition ever, the 2022 Qatar World Cup, a defining moment or a tournament that may perform a plastic surgery disaster on the beautiful game?

It has felt like a weird anxiety dream ahead of one of those ominous events we have to face in the future but keep putting off. Most are ignoring it; in fact, other than pondering how the upcoming break will affect our Fantasy Football team, the 2022 Qatar-hosted World Cup has stealthily crept up on us until it is barely a fortnight away.

It continues to feel weird hearing the odd reluctant pundit discussing the merits of an in-form Callum Wilson deserving a place on the plane when we all know he’ll most likely do his hamstrings boarding the flight. There’s no bedlam or mania. No fervour. That’s because Qatar is not a football nation yet the western hemisphere is heading for its first winter World Cup.

Let’s just take time to consider this. World Cup games in the pub, the Christmas tree up, dark outside, half-time Christmas pies, the hollow ring of Merry Christmas Everyone from a sorrowful Shakin’ Stevens on the jukebox. Boney M, The Pogues. Mariah Carey. Tempers frayed. Fights over a selection box.

But be still my conscience. Go away. Don’t waste it.

A derided and decried World Cup played in such a brutal climate in unrelenting heat? Who wants to qualify for a World Cup there? The climate was always first. Qatar’s atrocious human rights record and treatment of migrant workers, women’s rights, gay rights and the death penalty for farting were way down the list.

Qatar have been busy. The hosts held a friendly, for logistics, back in March in Doha between Croatia and Slovenia. Meanwhile we continue to have an outbreak of temporary blindness. It will be a guilty pleasure tuning in to see the in-form PSG trio of Messi with Argentina, Neymar with Brazil and Mbappé with France (PSG – a state-owned football club, oh, owned by Qatar), while the football authorities turn a visually impaired eye to the concept that this tournament has been bought.

It’s going to be like a winter wedding – only hot, very hot, melting hot – the kind of heat that will see the assistant referee’s time-added-on clock melt like a Dali painting. The accommodating switch for the 22nd World Cup to November and December gets the temperature down to a cool 80 degrees.

Drinking (and football) are not part of their culture. Alcohol is not readily available, but for the World Cup, it will be brought in. A pint in Doha will cost between £12 and £15. There’s a sin tax (and a seen you coming tax) added. Though recently, there were press reports of a FIFA fan Festival, able to hold 40,000 people with official beer sponsor Budweiser charging fans around £5 for a pint. Party time.

If cash is no object, those who have hospitality packages for a group game, in the Pearl Lounge suite, at the 80,000-seat Lusail stadium, providing ‘mixologists, Champagne selection, sommeliers, and premium spirits’ will cost $4950. The sale of alcohol is ‘tightly controlled’. It’s available in a handful of hotels only. There are state-controlled ‘bottle stores’ that only sell to those with a liquor permit. Football fans won’t be able to buy from the bottle stores. This is not the Munich Beer Festival. I repeat this is not the Munich Beer Festival.

And anyone considering sneaking in some cocaine, don’t; that brings a death sentence. Most of those who attend will complain of having the worst hangunder (the opposite of a hangover, caused by a severe lack of alcohol to numb the pain of supporting your team).

The 2022 World Cup opens on Sunday, November 20, in the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. The hosts will face Ecuador in Group A. The stadium looks less like a football stadium and more like a huge retail park TK Maxx with a gargantuan traditional Bedouin tent on top.

Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar

It was inspired by the Bayt al sha’ar, the tents of nomadic people. The Bayt al sha’ar is traditionally regarded as a welcoming sight and considered a symbol of hospitality. The stadium was built by German architect Albert Speer Jr, the son of Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect who became Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich during World War II. Further outbreaks of myopia with this guy too. Yes, the son (now late, he passed away in 2017) of Hitler’s architect.

Those running football associations across the world will be planning hotels and travel arrangements and training facilities including provisional hotel bookings for the final at the Lusail Stadium in Doha a week before Christmas on Sunday, December 18. No doubt the UK’s top QCs are also on call. Just in case there’s some afters and fans face beheading for spilling their expensive beer while mooning for the cameras.

Don’t mention the truth. You can’t handle the truth. Over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded in 2010. Most of those are from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Only four in every 100 construction workers are from Qatar, the other 96 are treated terribly. The figures of those killed do not include the deaths of workers from the Philippines and Kenya as their governments refused to release any accurate figures. The racial discrimination against non-nationals in Qatar is inhumane.

I wonder if any football people – club owners, directors and administrators – have read the UN report by Professor Tendayi Achiume? She’s the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism. She highlights how Western and Arab nationals ‘systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities…which raise serious concerns of structural racial discrimination against non-nationals in Qatar’.

An awful lot is going up very quickly: stadia, hotels and airports. Construction workers have to work nights or start very early before it becomes too hot. In Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, 10 people died in construction accidents. In 2010 in South Africa there was one death. (This might sound conveniently low but they are official government statistics).

Why is it so bad? How are they exploited? To get work and escape poverty in their own country, migrants are asked to part with expensive agent fees. This means they are immediately in debt and afraid to leave their job. They are forced to live under appalling conditions. They have to hand over their passports. Wages rarely reach the figure promised and their salaries are often deliberately delayed. The regime is so brutal many are scared to leave their building site.

But all that serious stuff doesn’t matter. We’ll be fine. It’s just the football. Football authorities are running around like Basil Fawlty shouting “don’t mention the war!”. For FIFA, this could be the perfect location for the World Cup. They’re all busy burying their heads in the sand. They can’t handle the truth: most of those being mistreated, persecuted and killed are poor migrant workers who left their impoverished homeland to improve their family’s life to work in Qatar. They are there to build the stadia, hotels, airports and roads, the infrastructure for over a million visitors expected for the World Cup.

It’s too late now, but football needed to be brave here, and be outspoken. But that takes courage, like former Norwegian international and Tromso player Tom Hogli who perfectly described the situation as ‘corruption and modern slavery’. Norway, Denmark and a pro-alliance group of German fans have spoken out. The Germans said: “It would be the end of ethics and dignity to appear in a lavish football festival on the graves of thousands of migrant workers.”

Those participating and attending the Qatar World Cup should do so knowing this. FIFA are not interested in upsetting Qatar. But like a bad script for a made-for-TV mob movie, they are now fumbling for metaphors and clichés. They’re in too deep. It’s now too far gone. The genie is out of the bottle.

Cast your mind back to the December 2010 announcement of the next two World Cups: Russia and Qatar. Cameras focused on the English delegation who were given the nod and a wink it was theirs to host. Not enough oil, obviously. On top of human rights violations and labour issues, the awarding process is the elephant in the room. The grubby nature of how the tournament was given to both these nations was subject to an FBI investigation.

We applauded how quickly UEFA mobilised when the European Super League was announced and their cash cow was at risk of slaughter. FIFA should be able to move even more effectively but they aren’t genuine football people, they are more obsessed with cash and little remote-controlled cars that bring out the ball before a game.

Qatar is using football as PR. They bought PSG to show their lovely, caring, sporting side. It is a clear attempt, in broad daylight, to launder the image of their repressive dictatorial regime.

When it comes to football, I’m a traditionalist. I want football nations to host the World Cup. From an early age, I’ve known Boca Juniors and River Plate were from Argentina. That Santos and Flamengo were from Brazil. That Ajax and Feyenoord are Dutch and Real Madrid and Barcelona are Spanish. AC Milan and Inter were Italian and Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were German. Why? Because they are all famous football nations.

I can’t name a football team from Qatar. I know current Barcelona coach Xavi once managed a team there. Again, big money, big name. You could argue that’s my problem, I should know. But we are talking about the pinnacle of the beautiful game. One which comes together in a festival of football every four years. The greatest show on earth? Not anymore. The competition should surely be held in a place where football means something, not just a prop for the highest bidder.

When you look into Qatar, there’s no established high-profile national sporting success. If I say New Zealand, you’d say rugby. Canada – ice hockey. USA – American football, basketball or baseball. Qatar – you’d struggle beyond any traditional nomadic-based sports like Arabian horse racing, camel racing or falconry. Any popular pastimes like cricket are due to ex-pats from India and Pakistan. Qatar does not have 100-150 years of football culture. That’s why so many new shiny stadiums have been built. FIFA should have cancelled the World Cup in Qatar, brought it to Europe and given the proceeds to Ukraine, UNICEF, war refugees and the poor.

I think I’d prefer the fans were safe and tucked up after coming home from a Christmas night out at this time of year. Though that’s easy for me to say, my national side, Scotland, were defeated by Ukraine who were in turn defeated by Wales. They did us all a favour by refusing to qualify at the final hurdle. It was disheartening but ironically, in failure, we can regain the high moral ground. The SFA were saved from a terrible dilemma. Who will they call to write the official World Cup dirge? Del Amitri? Biffy Clyro? Or what about an ironic re-working of ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me?’ By Travis? (The answer is prevailing Westerlies, Fran).

Andy Bollen – follow him on Twitter or check out his books on Amazon here