Gianni Infantino said what people like him always say in the run-up to a major tournament. ‘We will see the best World Cup ever in Qatar,’ the FIFA president claimed on Friday.
Usually, you’d let that slide. Usually, you’d be tempted to indulge it as harmless twaddle. Usually, you’d get swept along by the excitement that went with Friday’s draw. Not this time.
We will see the best World Cup ever in Qatar? No we won’t. We might see some great football. I hope we do. We might see some magical moments. With the talent that will be there, those are guaranteed.
Nothing can change the fact that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a tainted tournament
FIFA chief Gianni Infantino (L) said it would be ‘the best World Cup ever’. Don’t make me laugh
We will see some breathtaking goals, too, and some memorable celebrations. And there will be joy and there will be despair. None of it will change the fact that this is a tainted tournament.
This isn’t going to be the best World Cup ever. It’s a £200billion heist. And now it’s upon us, the full absurdity of what we have been complicit in is actually getting real.
We’re having a World Cup in a country that is smaller than London because we didn’t have the will to say ‘no’ when it was stolen from the rest of the football world by the crooks and charlatans and hoodlums of FIFA 12 years ago.
Somehow, Friday was the final frontier. No going back now. All hope of Qatar being stripped of the tournament gone. Seeing England in a group with the USA and Iran, knowing when their fixtures are, made it all real. Qatar did it. They really did it. They have got Elvis to play the village hall. And they got the World Cup to come to Qatar.
We might see some great football and magical moments, but none of that will mask the stench of corruption and fear
The best World Cup ever? Please. It is already tainted by its cradling. It was born among widespread allegations of bribery and corruption. It is almost as if we are supposed to have forgotten that it was awarded by one of the most venal sporting electorates in history.
Of the 22 FIFA executives who voted in 2010 for Qatar to host the tournament, at least 16 have either been banned, accused of or indicted for criminal corruption, involved in FBI cases or accused of ethical violations but not convicted.
It is tainted, too, by its construction. Its stadiums were built in the blood of migrant workers. More than 6,500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup final 12 years ago. Many of those are thought to have been working on World Cup projects.
Qatar has overseen a series of vast construction projects in the past decade and many of those who visited the country for the draw on Friday were struck by how Doha, its capital, still resembles a building site. Seven new stadiums have been constructed, as well as a new airport, new roads, new public transport systems and a new city. Those construction projects required armies of migrant workers.
‘A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,’ said Nick McGeehan, a director at FairSquare Projects, an advocacy group specialising in labour rights in the Gulf.
The system that built Qatar’s football palaces was a modern version of slave labour. Unpaid wages, or wages withheld for months, have been reported. Others refer to the conditions as indentured servitude. It is called the kafala system in the Gulf and 18 months ago new labour laws in Qatar brought it to an end there. In theory, at least.
The World Cup was stolen by the crooks, charlatans and hoodlums of FIFA 12 years ago
Of the 22 officials who voted for Qatar, 16 have been banned, accused of or indicted for criminal corruption. Pictured: Sepp Blatter (L) and Michel Platini, who were both ousted
Some say the advent of the World Cup is responsible for those changes. They say the public gaze has brought about modernisation and it is true that the reforms have been welcomed by a range of labour organisations. There have been some signs of progress. It is also true that there is already some scepticism about whether those reforms are working in practice.
‘We acknowledge that progress needs to be made,’ said Qatar World Cup secretary general Hassan Al-Thawadi, one of the most articulate voices of the tournament, ‘but what we ask is also to acknowledge the work that has been done. We have a legitimate ambition to showcase our region to the rest of the world and to change people’s perception of who we are.’
Sadly, the reforms won’t change the reality of the conditions workers suffered when the stadiums were being built. When the players run out to play their group games this November, they might as well be playing in the graveyards of those migrant workers. Quite how anyone can still claim it will be the best World Cup ever in those circumstances beggars belief.
Qatar’s stadiums were built in the blood of migrant workers after more than 6,500 deaths
They keep saying, too, that this will be a World Cup for everyone. Qatar has hired a lot of expensive public relations executives to push that party line and push it relentlessly. But it is not true.
The World Cup excludes people at the best of times. Usually on economic grounds. This time, FIFA are asking us to visit a state that criminalises homosexuality and expecting us, simultaneously, to join in the fallacy that this is a festival for the world.
Last week, 16 different global anti-discrimination groups released a collective statement expressing their concerns about the tournament. ‘We have heard no specifics on guarantees that LGBT+ people (fans or residents) will not be arrested for their existence,’ it said.
‘We have witnessed a complete disregard for fans throughout this broken process. It is clear that fans’ voices, especially from minority groups, are not taken seriously by FIFA and the Supreme Committee. We cannot in good faith tell our members, LGBT+ people or allies that this is a World Cup for all.’
Already, there is wrangling about what will happen to people who wave rainbow flags at matches or outside stadiums. One official suggested the flags would have to be taken from them for their own protection. Which was meant to be reassuring but really wasn’t.
FIFA are asking us to attend a country to visit a state that criminalises homosexuality and pretend this a festival for the world
Qatar might have great stadiums and metro trains that run on time – but the smell of fear and odour of grief will never fade away
The president of the Norwegian FA, Lise Klaveness, was right when she told FIFA’s annual congress a few home truths in Doha on Thursday and said football’s tenets had been disregarded when Qatar won the bid in 2010. ‘Human rights, equality, democracy: the core interests of football were not in the starting 11 until many years later,’ she said.
And so we will be asked to turn up at a winter World Cup in a country with little tradition of supporting football, a country where a swathe of the game’s supporters fear to tread, a country that could not host the tournament when it was supposed to be hosted, a country that won the right to host it in the most dubious of circumstances, a country that built the tournament on the bones of migrant workers.
The best World Cup ever? Don’t make me laugh. The football might be good, the goals might be spectacular, the metro might run on time, the air-conditioning in the stadiums might feel like a sweet breeze in the desert heat but none of it will blow away the stench of corruption and the smell of fear and the odour of grief and the pain of guilt that will hang over Qatar 2022.
FANS ARE ENTITLED TO BOO, BUT IT DOESN’T HELP YOUR TEAM
An important victory in the field of civil liberties was achieved last week when we established beyond doubt the inalienable right of English football fans to boo players on their own team because they have paid the price of admission and they can sing what they want.
Some were so outraged by the suggestion that jeering Harry Maguire might not be the best way to encourage him to play well that they interpreted it as another sign of the snowflake apocalypse.
Harry Maguire being booed by England fans could take the team back to the days where players could not play with freedom in fear of making mistakes – a return to mediocrity
What’s the world coming to, after all, if you can’t boo one of your own? The thing is, no one has ever questioned the right of fans to boo their own players. It does seem reasonable to point out that it is not going to help your team.
Maybe we want to go back to a time where players hated playing for England because they were worried about the stick they would get from the press. Maybe we want to go back to a time where England players could not play with freedom because they knew if they made a mistake, they would be picked on by the crowd.
Maybe we want to go back to the days where we did not reach the semi-final, then the final in successive tournaments. A return to mediocrity is our right. Don’t let anyone tell you different.