Why the World Cup was Great (Trying to be Fair to Qatar in a World of Fifa’s Making)

Why the World Cup was Great (Trying to be Fair to Qatar in a World of Fifa’s Making)

Let’s get this out of the way regarding the Qatar World Cup. Slavery is bad. Deaths at work are worse. Real inclusivity would have been nice, and Gianni’s Fifa makes Sepp’s look like…well Gianni’s.

But that isn’t the whole tale of this World Cup. If you dig deep, like Barry White deep, there are silver linings. And you know, baby with the bath water and all that stuff.

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Here is my non-exhaustive list

⁃ Not a single English arrest. Were numbers of travellers down, probably. Was England sure that they were leaving the Middle East with the prize they were destined to have “coming home?” As ever. Was there booze? Less than in previous World Cups, and not in stadiums if you were amongst the hoi polloi, but yes, there was in designated areas – but not those designated areas designated for years before the event up until the last minute. But it kept some of the King Chuck’s finest outta the slammer, so pip-pip, my good chap!

England’s Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring their first goal with Mason Mount. (Paul Childs/Reuters)

⁃ Potentially less harassment for women than ever before. Women who I’ve spoken to, listened to and read who were at the games felt safer in and out of the stadiums. That is not nothing. Is that because there was no Bud in the fanzones outside the stadiums? In part, no doubt. Does it also owe a lot to the fear of an autocratic government that has shown it is not bound by any agreements, possibly even their own. You bet. And am I including the safety that Queer women travelling to support their teams felt. Less so, in that the Lesbian fans I know personally were mostly boycotting. And those who weren’t felt at least as uncomfortable as they did in Russia, so not great. But it would be disingenuous to say that the many women who attended from around the world did not find themselves in a different environment around these games that was not altogether bad, and in many ways, really good.

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⁃ A look into the Muslim world abroad. I mean a lot of the build up to the World Cup in Qatar was filtered through borderline Islamophobia. That is not to say there were not very legitimate issues (See intro). Of course there were. But we also have very stringent ideas about how Islamic majority nations work, and should work. Did I know that women made up the majority of native university students in Qatar before this tournament? Or that they make up a large portion of the workforce in Qatar? No. But I do now. The citizens there seemed welcoming to their guests as promised. We need to re-evaluate what we expected versus what we got, because hatin’ is easy.

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⁃ A window into our role in Qatar. If I had not followed this World Cup I would never have known there was a University of Calgary Campus in Qatar. What?! But of course there is. Because Qatar runs on Oil & Gas just like Alberta. But really it is a Nursing school, so what do I know? With all the positive, negatives and commonalities that come with that. It wasn’t just the Tim Horton’s in the Middle East (which of course is no longer Canadian) but a lot of ex-pats and students enjoying lives in Qatar. An eye-opener to be sure. And something many of us never bothered to think about before the World Cup in Qatar, what is our involvement there when no one is watching?

Davies celebrates scoring Canadas first ever goal at a mens World Cup against Croatia. (Carl Recine/Reuters)

⁃ The soccer. This was always going to be the case. The best players in the world were in one place playing for something very special. Messi git his, and Mbappe showed the world that he is already the next big thing. And with the strict rules in place you’d expect in an autocratic society, focus was always going to be more centred on the game than anywhere else. A lesson learned from Mussolini’s Italy, Videla’s Argentina or Putin’s Russia. Bread and circuses.

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⁃ An inward look at oneself. Listening to the the media reports of worker abuse, the lack of LGBTQ+ and Women’s rights, and on what seemed like open bribery should not be celebrated. But it should not be ignored going into our home World Cup. I am aware of the very narrow line of whataboutism I am walking. But if we are genuine in our concerns as activists, than there is no better time to turn a part of that gaze towards and the USA, Canada and Mexico.

Mexico’s Raul Jimenez (2nd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring against El Salvador, Mexico City, Mexico, March 30, 2022. (Reuters Photo) Mexico’s Raul Jimenez (2nd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring against El Salvador, Mexico City, Mexico, March 30, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

The US will have to answer to the lack of women’s bodily autonomy in much of the nation (safe legal abortions are available to the women of Qatar). Canada will have a lot to explain regarding the treatment of Indigenous Peoples, specifically the treatment of children and the legacy of residential schools/sixties scoop and the current lack of informed consent in the use of Indigenous lands (and unceded lands). I am not sure what Mexico’s biggest issues will be, but I am sure there will be a big discussion about their ongoing issues with homophobic chants/slurs in the stands around goal kicks. And we don’t have the “advantage” of shutting down/oppressing/hiding dissenting voices in our societies. These are valid issues we need to follow up on, as well as keeping an eye on Qatar’s moves with the spotlight gone. Else we look like hypocrites, or just flat out Islamophobes.

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⁃ The sustainability of a small site WC. Players and fans were playing games all within an hour of each other. That means a lot for potential sustainability. Cars, trains, buses and subways ferrying everyone around beats an excess of flights. (It should be noted here that many fans chose to stay in Dubai our Saudi and fly in for games, but many stayed in the limited accommodations of Doha). Future sites won’t have the same hotel limits. And, with concerns over climate change, having games in smaller set-ups would work. Future World Cups may see this one as a partial template. Spain/Portugal without the Ukraine would be accessible by coach and train. A little more green. A future Saudi World Cup may look the same.

The Spanish, Portuguese and Ukrainian football federations have launched a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup (Martial Trezzini/AP)

Ok, it is a new year and I can finally start to let go of that World Cup feeling. (CPL kick off is still too far away for my liking). My issues with a winter World Cup in a place that seemed callous to its workers and players; openly dismissive about its potential corruption links; dishonest about its plans; and disruptive to the World Football calendar – were not particularly subtle. But in all my years of letting Fifa off the hook despite who they are because I like footy, I felt I had to at least look for the bright side.

Now, do it even better Australia/New Zealand. You got next!


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