While the World Cup started yesterday, it’s only today that things really get going. For fans, the World Cup is all about the feel of an NCAA tournament with multiple games played each day, and there are three a day today and four for the next few weeks. This is the actual tournament. If we weren’t all feeling weird enough about this particular World Cup, FIFA, its president, the ruling family of Qatarand Fox certainly did their best to ensure that anyone who didn’t join the club over the weekend.
It’s almost impossible not to feel some level of conflict in this regard. Awkward, at the very least, considering it takes place in November and December instead of June and July where it belongs. It doesn’t feel quite right, out of rhythm. That’s not nearly the whole story, of course, but it’s a good base to start feeling something is off.
And then there are the layers upon layers. When Qatari rulers decided, just two days before the tournament, that they would go back on their promise to drink beer in the stadiums, it could not be taken as much other than a power movement, a demonstration of untouchable authority. Which, of course, leads to wondering what else they might come back to or what they don’t intend to pursue in the first place. What have you been waiting for to show how much money you have and how much you don’t care what other people think?
Awarding and running the tournament there is a confirmation of all of that, whether FIFA likes it or not. It’s the extreme openness of what’s important to a supposed non-profit organization, and that was the suitcases and envelopes full of cash that were given to voters to award the tournament to Qatar in the first place.
The thing is, we knew it then. We knew that the proclamations of air-conditioned floating aircraft carriers were pure fantasy. We knew they couldn’t host this tournament in the summer, we knew they couldn’t comfortably host it in such a small space. And the problems have only gotten worse.
That’s where the confusion creeps in. Sportswashing was at the top of every report, every comment, and yet awarding the World Cup has only shed more light on how Qatar works. It’s doubtful you’ll find a football fan who doesn’t know anything about the basic enslavement of migrant workers or the treatment of women or the LGBT+ community. Had the World Cup been awarded elsewhere, these issues would likely have been just as well known. That hardly makes it all worth or even remotely good, but it does make it clear that either Qatar’s rulers were only interested in the money it would bring him (hard to imagine breaking even with a $250 million investment can achieve) or they actually thought that all problems were being ignored or swept under the rug. Sending Gianni Infantino there to do her bids on Saturday certainly suggests a frustration that the headlines and stories aren’t going the way they want. The fear would be, the more it doesn’t go the way they envisioned, how wildly and recklessly they might try to swing it back the way they envisioned.
Maybe the exam will ease up after the tournament. Maybe most people forget Qatar or where it is or what they do. Or maybe there are enough reporters to stay on the case after the riot.
And yet it is a World Cup. it should be Valhalla for every fan. It hasn’t been entirely unadulterated for a long time considering what we’ve all known about FIFA for a long time. We know what it’s about, what really drives them. And yes, they are there now to make money and capitalize on our joy, just like the owners are in every other facet of the sport. When it comes to that, it’s almost as if our love of sport is armed against us, challenging us to answer how much we can take.
I certainly will not disagree with anyone who decides that this tournament is not for them, just this World Cup. There are those who just can’t get over how Qatar treats all these groups. At this tournament in particular, the exact definition of the elephant is in the air.
And when I say that, I can’t let them take away the joy for the fans either, everyone, FIFA and Qatar are pretty much counting on that. They’ll get away with it because we can’t live without them. You will have “won” when we tune in.
Only there is no real winning and losing. We could turn off all the screens, but the FIFA officials already have their bribe. You already have the sponsorship money. They already have the TV money. Maybe some of the networks around the world are losing ad revenue. Maybe they should have acted years ago because we know FIFA listens. But will we rely on Budweiser and Coca Cola to develop a conscience?
I personally feel like I’m the only one losing by ignoring the tournament. I’m losing someone else’s opportunity Landon Donovan Valhalla moment 2010. I watch this reaction video regularly. I lose if I don’t see Yunus Musah come onto the world stage or if Messi can finally claim the final stretch of the set of his career. I will not win a fight with FIFA and Qatar. The only thing I could do was deny them my tourism dollars.
Those of us watching will wear it all, it won’t always be comfortable, and it probably never will be. I hate getting all the Andy Dufresne, but “there’s something they can’t touch,” and yet I can’t help it. Is there nothing they cannot harvest and ruin? There’s still a part of it that’s ours.
We didn’t choose that. It was forced on us. But they can’t have everything. At least I don’t think they can. Maybe by Thursday I’ll think it’s just too gross. The confusion is actually the hardest part.