Despite coming from a football-obsessed family and a football-obsessed country in a football-obsessed world, I’ve little interest in the beautiful game. But starting tomorrow it’ll be wall-to-wall coverage of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Unless I move to Mars or become a hermit for the duration, it’ll be impossible to avoid the unremitting flood of games, goals, news and views coming at me from every direction. But I’m not a total killjoy. Even I hope our home countries of Wales and England do well.
But here’s the rub: how did a country with little or no tradition of playing football, no venues to speak of and summer temperatures hot enough to melt the slap on a drag queen’s face win the bid to host the big daddy of all competitions? Record bungs and backhanders, naturally – or so it’s alleged. Associated football is drowning in the filthy lucre, the richest sport on the planet, so there’s a bottomless pit of petty cash to go around. At least some sense has prevailed and kick-off has been postponed to late autumn so players and fans alike don’t drop dead in the heat.
Setting aside the well-greased palms, there’s also the small matter of civil rights – or lack thereof – in the oil-rich nation ruled with an iron fist by an absolute monarch. When it comes to the footie, Qatar may be strictly Sunday morning kickabout but it’s in the top flight for limited freedoms for women, enforced (and sometimes deadly) labour akin to modern-day slavery and oppression of LGBT people. Of course, this won’t stop the circus rolling into town to take the Sheik’s shilling.
The beautiful game just got ugly.
PS. It now seems FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, thinks being teased at school for having red hair and freckles is the same as being banged up in a Qatari hellhole prison for being gay. What a prat.