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Qatar 2022 - A Very Different World Cup

by Steven Fitzgerald 9 days ago in fifa / world cup · updated 9 days ago
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Human Rights, Money and Soccer

Finally - we’re here!

Here?

Yes - after an interminable build up, the 2022 World Cup has at last kicked off!

Oh, that’s good… hang on: THE World Cup?

Yessir - soccer’s showpiece tournament.

But I thought the World Cup took place in the Summer?

That is true. This is the first Winter World Cup.

Why?

It’s being held in Qatar. Given that the temperature in Doha in August can top 105 degrees Fahrenheit, it was deemed prudent to move the tournament to a more temperate part of the year. One in which - you know - elite athletes might be able to run around in for more than 5 minutes before collapsing with heatstroke

Makes sense.

It's about the only part of this sordid saga that does.

Sordid saga? That sounds ominous.

Sadly, I’m not over stating things. Up to this point it’s been a shitshow. A veritable mess involving corruption, death, and arguments about beer.

Wait: Did you say ‘death’?

I did indeed. Those swanky new stadiums didn’t just cost billions of dollars - they also cost quite a few lives.

So far, this sounds horrific.

I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. As I said, shitshow. Everyone’s hoping the actual football will take our collective minds off the money / corpse strewn road that’s led us here. Which, to be fair, it just might. For a short time at least.

So you’re confident about the football-bit of this?

Yes. That part should be good. Not least as it’s - potentially - quite open.

I thought only certain countries ever won the World Cup? Brazil, Germany, France, Argentina… teams like that.

France won the last World Cup held in Russia in 2018

Ordinarily, you would be correct. And, in theory, it should be the same this year. Of the favourites, Brazil have a wealth of attacking talent and the best goalkeepers: France, the current holders, might have lost a few key midfielders but still have magic sprinkled through squad; Germany have the tournament know-how; and Argentina have Messi. It would be a surprise if the winners didn’t emerge from that group. Yet…

Yet?

It’s not a straightforward World Cup. To crowbar this tournament into an already congested calendar, there’s been no break. The European leagues literally only stopped last week. The majority of the players on show have come straight from their domestic sides to their national teams. Which complicates things.

In a good way?

Yea and nay.

Start with the ‘nay’ - always best to have the bad news first.

In a word, tiredness. Given that the majority of the players haven't had a rest, stress injuries might be an issue. Overexertion equals muscular tears, strains and pulls. These might be elite athletes but there’s only so much the human body can endure. Superficially, Qatar 2022 may look shiny and exciting, but that sheen will quickly come off if Messi, or Ronaldo, or Mbappé are ruled out for a minor niggle. However, those kind of injuries WILL occur - if one of those afore-mentioned favourites lose a talisman or two, while a less-fancied team doesn't, then the balance of the tournament could alter quite quickly.

Argentina's talisman - Lionel Messi

Okay, so what about the good news?

The lack of a break could actually be an advantage for some sides - some players might simply take off internationally where they left off domestically. For example, although England have defensive frailties, if Harry Kane continues playing in the same way he’s been playing for Tottenham Hotspur, then his goals might take the Three Lions all the way. Same for Modric with Croatia. Or Nunez for Uruguay. Or… actually there’s too many to list. The point is domestic form might be key - like injuries, they could transform a Dark Horse into a powerhouse.

That sounds exciting!

As are the rule changes - they’re going to add an extra soupçon of unpredictability to the whole shebang.

Rule changes? Exploding footballs - that kind of thing?

If FIFA could make money out of it, you can bet they’d do it. Who knows maybe next time. For now it’s more than the coach is allowed to make five substitutions during the game. The ability to change half of your outfield team gives them more options than ever before. A savvy manager could influence the match immeasurably.

Does that level the playing field or only exacerbate the existing difference in quality? I’m guessing that France or Brazil would be able to bring on five players equally good as the ones coming off. Whereas… I don’t know…

Iran would be a good example.

Thank you. Iran’s best players are probably already on the pitch and the substitutes may not actually make much difference.

In theory you are 100% correct. However, no one knows. In this instance, it may not be about quality as much as being able to make a major tactical change. If you’ve got a bench full of talented players but they’re all similar to the ones on the pitch then it’s just about freshening things up. However, if you’ve got a varied squad, full of players who all offer something different, then a coach could act upon something he’s observed in the match so far and make a raft of substitutions to exploit it.

An example, please.

Let’s use England again. The chances are they’ll start with a conservative, narrow formation populated by very technically adept players. However, they’ve got pace on the bench. If the manager thinks the opposition is a bit slow, then he can theoretically send on an veritable army of Tasmanian Devils to outpace them. England might not have the quality of Brazil but they’ve got more variation in their squad, and are capable of playing more than one way. That might make a difference.

England's Bukayo Saka - speed demon

So, really, given that injuries might be vital, the importance of domestic form, and the rule changes, anyone with a decent squad with players in form can win it.

Well, not anyone. Normally the hosts would expect to do well given the benefit of home advantage but - truly - no one’s expecting Qatar to emerge triumphant. But, as for the rest? No one would be shocked to see Brazil or Argentina win, just as not too many eyebrows would be raised if Denmark or England were crowned champions. The football side of the World Cup is intriguing - it's all the other stuff that's the concern.

Shitshow?

Utter shitshow.

I'm not looking forward to hearing this...

Your fears are well-founded. Let's begin with Qatar being awarded the World Cup in the first place. There was certainly some surprise when the country was announced as bid winners back in December 2010. However, this also dovetailed with FIFA's stated aim of making football a truly global game. If soccer is to genuinely be a world sport, then its showpiece tournament has to be staged in all corners of the world. In that respect, it was only a matter of time before the Middle East was finally involved.

Makes sense.

Doesn't it? In theory, there's little wrong with this idea. Actually, it's lovely. Not least as it brings different cultures into close contact with each. It may be naive, but staging an international event in a Muslim country where alcohol is forbidden, and public shows of affection are frowned upon, may be an enlightening experience for soccer's Western fans, and could help them better understand a culture that is alien for them. Likewise for the hosts. Given the sheer scale and influence of the World Cup, and the players who will contest it, there was a genuine chance to bring people together. However...

We're not going to be talking about that at the end, are we?

No - we're not. We'll be talking about how the majority of FIFA's awarding committee who gave Qatar the World Cup in the first place have since been either suspended or dismissed for corruption. No one was ever naive about the rottenness at the heart of FIFA but - jeez - this an organisation with NO moral compass. In their pursuit of money and power, they make the Borgias look like the Waltons.

FIFAs’s former boss, Sepp Blatter

I hesitate to ask, but - at the outset - you mentioned 'death'...

No one knows exactly how many migrant workers have died building Qatar's swanky new stadia. Amnesty International has said over 15,000 workers have lost their lives but that figure is, in likelihood, too high. The real figure is probably closer to 6,000. Which is 6,000 too many. No sporting arena is worth a single death - 6,000 is sickeningly obscene. And when you consider that these workers were living in squalid living quarters, working in extreme conditions, and earning $1 an hour, it makes those deaths even more poignant.

That's shocking.

It's why many have relabeled the tournament The Human Rights Cup: Many, many people's lives have been ruined or lost to stage this festival of football - those are the voices we should remember. And people are getting irate about beer...

Beer?

The Qataris have had a last minute change of heart - despite agreeing that alcohol would be on sale during the World Cup, they've now said it won't be. Is it a flexing of muscles, a shot across FIFA's bow? Or are they simply, as dry, Muslim country, being true to themselves? Quite frankly, who cares. It's bad news for one of the primary sponsors of the tournament which is a well-known beverage which rhymes with 'Hud.' For everyone else, really, get over it - there's far, far bigger issues to be angry about. In fact, there's at least 6,000 of them.

I'm not sure I could enjoy watching the tournament knowing all this.

And in that respect you are like the majority of soccer fans. We'll still be watching but... well, this World Cup will forever be tainted. Regardless of any magic we see on the pitch, it will never overshadow the greed and tragedy that led us here. Sometimes the beautiful game is anything but beautiful. And the 2022 World Cup is pretty damned ugly.

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About the author

Steven Fitzgerald

Hi!

Film, theatre, mental health, sport, politics, music, travel, and the occasional short story... it's a varied mix!

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