The World Cup in Qatar is an ugly metastatic cancer in the football body; we are all guilty

John Nicholson
The World Cup is in Qatar

Less than two weeks until the World Cup begins. What are you going to do? Watch or not watch?

Remember when we used to look forward to the World Cup? Those days are gone. We only have to think of those who died, their blood boiling in the desert heat, separated from their loved ones, men who perished alone and desperate, their labour exploited mercilessly by an oppressive autocracy. Their only crime was to be poor. Oh God. What have we allowed to happen? Have we no conscience? How can we cheer on our teams with these ghosts haunting the tournament?

But forget all that. Look at the glamorous Qatar travelogue adverts, which look like a package from a holiday programme. What a lovely cultured place. Not a corpse in sight. And the Qatari state is paying people to say nice things about the country and the World Cup. And you’ll have noticed a flood of bots on social media doing likewise, as well as attacking critics of this paradise on Earth as hypocrites.

The PR campaign to pretend that Qatar isn’t a problem is in full swing but there is a worry that post-World Cup, when the cameras have been turned off and the whole amoral charabanc of exploitation has moved on, scores will be violently settled by unforgiving rulers.

In our high speed overheated media landscape, the word sportswashing is now so overused it has become a devalued cliche, but it is still ongoing and it is working. Of course it is. It always does.

There are those who say that the World Cup is actually shining a light on an oppressive state. That is to misunderstand how this thing works. Being positive or being critical doesn’t really matter, being talked about is what matters. Being at the table is what matters. Being something around which popular culture orbits matters. Being taken seriously matters. Because then you have influence and influence is power, power to pursue whatever agenda you want to pursue. Given the Qatar ruling family have a £10 billion property portfolio in the UK alone, you don’t have to be very cynical to see what that agenda might, at least in part, be.

Many of us are sympathetic with critics of Qatar – how could we not be – but we’re also just ordinary people. exhausted by the constant fight that is modern life. We’re sick of being lied to by the rich and powerful, are working too hard for not enough and feel overwhelmed, helpless and just want to watch the football for a few hours and forget about it all. But is now the time for forgetting? How much can we swallow down before the blood of those who died to make this tournament happen rises in our throat: the acid reflux of our conscience?

Ten European footballing nations, including England and Wales, are demanding that Fifa honours its promises of a positive legacy for workers’ rights in Qatar. They have made a public request that Fifa fulfil their promises on two issues it has ‘repeatedly committed to deliver’ but hasn’t: a permanent worker’s rights centre in Qatar and a compensation fund for migrant workers and their families. And rightly so.

But horrible regimes already own some of our clubs and were welcomed, so Fifa head Gianni Infantino, can always play the hypocrite card. And that’s just what he did in saying Qatar is not alone in having ‘issues and challenges’. This is the ‘you’re not perfect, so you can’t criticise’ argument, so favoured by so many.

Those who condoned state-owned football clubs, who justify everything with nihilistic whataboutery which takes as its foundations the principle that everything is awful anyway, so nothing matters, can hardly object to Qatar holding the World Cup.

The Qatar government and Fifa meanwhile are telling us to shut up and just watch the football. Don’t protest. Just suck down that refreshing nihilist kool-aid and keep politics out of your mind. They are just deploying the ‘stick to the football, lads’ argument we are very familiar with at F365. Gianni Infantino or someone from the Qatari ruling family lecturing us on how we should think or speak, is like being told by the arsonist that the house isn’t on fire, while they’re throwing a petrol bomb into the flaming conflagration.

So what do we do? The endless questioning of managers and players about the morality of playing seems wrong. It feels like blaming the soldiers for the war. And they are always open to the “who pays your wages then?” hypocrisy accusation, if they do. Rightly so, many may think. But if you’re being paid millions to play football by a murderous regime, you must be used to compartmentalising these moral dilemmas, I suppose. To some degree, we all are.

But the lack of excitement and anticipation about this tournament is absolutely palpable and for good reason. It all feels like dancing on the graves of the dead. There is no buzz, even as the media swings into gear and tries to drum up the usual passions, it feels somehow, unreal or fake. I’m not even sure the World Cup matters to many like it once did.

Internationals have certainly lost status to the Champions League, the fact you can’t buy your way to international success via ever more lavish transfers, that you can’t leverage success with oil money, or riches plundered from the people, is anathema to modern football culture. A competition based on nationality seems quite odd in the current context.

In every way Qatar 2022 feels abnormal and abhorrent. Some are saying they won’t watch it and fair play to them for that. After all, football is happening in all but the top two tiers of the pyramid in England and below the top tier in Scotland.

But if we do watch it on the TV, are we committing a heinous sin? Are we making things worse? If we protest, Qatar, Fifa and other stupids will say we’re virtue-signalling hypocrites, if we don’t, we’ll be accused of apathy.

Perhaps the only way through this nightmare is to just do what you can live with. What you can sell to yourself. What your conscience can handle. Let’s not be judgmental of each other. We’re all stained by this evil piss, some more than others. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Like many, I have a curdled feeling in my guts about it all, but then that is an almost permanent state of being in these desperate, dark days. Only people who don’t know anything about football call it the beautiful game anymore. The World Cup in Qatar is an ugly metastatic cancer in the football body and it’s too late to cut it out, though how great it would be if all European countries walked out now, for maximum publicity. They would be bigger heroes than the winners of this soiled tournament will ever be.

That statement from the 10 FAs says: “We believe in the power of football to make further positive and credible contributions to progressive sustainable change in the world.” I hope they are right. They are fine words, but words rendered almost meaningless by what has already been allowed to happen by the same authorities.

But hey, forget all those people, people just like you and me, thousands of people who died in the burning heat, skin blistered and burnt. People who had loved ones back home. People who had hopes and dreams, like all of us do. People who just wanted a better bloody life. For God’s sake, that’s not such a big wish is it? People who worked hard and sacrificed everything. People who those bastards at Fifa and in Qatar effectively condemned to death. Who we all did not do enough to protect. They are you and they are me. We’d have wanted someone to help us if we were being abused and exploited, wouldn’t we? But what did we do? Nothing. We have betrayed them. We owed them a duty of care, but we were too distracted by our own selfishness to help. They were not nothing. Imagine it was your father, your brother, your uncle. Oh God. It’s disgusting.

Just enjoy the football?


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