Saturday, December 4

Qatar 2022 is a power game aimed at neighbors rather than European critics | World Cup 2022

ORne year to the end, 11 in the making. Welcome to Qatar 2022, the final countdown and a World Cup that, despite all the noise, the sense of crossed fingers and a look away from the bloodiest details, still doesn’t make any real sense.

It was easy to get a little distracted when Sepp Blatter read the word “Qatar” aloud, with a slight cracking in his voice, shortly after lunchtime on December 2, 2010. There was an edge of hysteria in the camera chamber. FIFA House. Ten minutes earlier, Blatter had broken the red wax seal on another padded envelope and said “Russia,” amidst long howls of joy.

The crowd had already started to boil. The flushed-looking media guys drifted toward the exits. Blatter himself, so priately alive in the presence of his glittering and glittering golden orb companion, the World Cup trophy, had begun to wither a bit on stage, perhaps feeling at that moment the first movements of the storm rising. looming.

The Qatari announcement triggered a more localized wave of noise. Sitting in the back row, you could feel the blowing of the wind as the winning delegation jumped, all except Zinedine Zidane, whose smooth, bald, muscular head sat motionless on the back of his chair. It is not surprising. Zidane went on to wear the same look of a man who vaguely cares about his dry cleaning ticket through three consecutive Champions League victories. But it’s also hard to argue with that mocking expression.

As of this weekend we have exactly one year until power-up. The Qatar 2022 opening match will kick off at 10am GMT on November 21 at Al Bayt Stadium in the city of Al Khor, 50 miles from Doha on the northeast coast. It’s safe to say that it has been an unusually tense journey up to this point, still followed by so many unanswered questions. It is not about the “how”. We now know that this was an extremely well-executed plan to land a first-ever Gulf World Cup, one that makes English FA gift bags, David Cameron’s optics on a vest, look incredibly naive.

Zidane was paid a million dollars to express his support for Qatar’s candidacy, providing a visible face, along with Pep Guardiola and Alex Ferguson, for a vast lobbying and secondary channeling machinery. If you believe Blatter, the fate of the offer had been set two weeks before Zurich around a lunch table at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Michel Platini has steadfastly denied changing his vote to Qatar at the request of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim. In Blatter’s version, Platini called from that lunchtime saying, “Sepp, it’s not going to work, we’ll have a problem.” Which would at least be one of the few indisputably true statements in this whole regrettable process.

Of the people in that Elysee painting, Sarkozy is currently serving a one-year sentence for political wiles. Blatter and Platini have been expelled from soccer and persecuted by prosecutors. That FIFA voting committee has been devastated by bans and accusations. Walk away and the light gets darker.

Qatar is convinced that there have only been a small number of deaths surrounding its preparations for the World Cup. A report by The Guardian concluded that at least 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in the country since Qatar won hosting rights. If we accept this figure, we must also accept that it is a World Cup washed in blood, played in large illuminated structures that will stand as monuments to the suffering of those who built them. Welcome to Qatar 2022, which is already one of the most mind-blowing sports stories ever told. Although one that is still out of sight.

Construction workers at Lusail Stadium in 2019
Construction workers at the Lusail Stadium in 2019. An estimated 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since it won the World Cup bid in 2010. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace / AFP / Getty Images

The real question remains, why? Why does Qatar want this? It has been assumed that this is a propaganda event. The phrase “sports laundering” was recently coined, but that process has revolved around FIFA since Benito Mussolini’s World Cup and on a variety of post-war despotic issues. It has been assumed that this is what Qatar wants, to present itself as a more liberal and open state, ready to dance the YMCA, deliver its limited edition pint of World Cup lager beer, reposition itself from an illiberal Gulf power to one. just. another player in the sunny leisure economy.

And through this door we enter a maze of conflicting principles, a place where no one is really clean. Does it matter that Britain and Qatar are so intertwined at all other levels? Should the World Cup be played in a nation where, for example, homosexuality is still a crime? That was certainly the case in England in 1966, so there is at least some precedent.

It allows to blur lines and interests in a convenient way. And how much easier it is to take a shortcut to this world through pop culture, to spend your resources paying David Beckham to look wonderfully mystified in picturesque locations, on the Alexa Chung show. “Put on a leggy screen” at the Qatari Fashion Trust Awards.

However, if you look closer, this feels blindly Eurocentric. Qatar is one of the richest nations in the world. It is currently the UK’s gas supplier of last resort, benevolently directing four replacement tankers to these shores last month. Why should he sell himself? Do we think those in power care what a dwindling trend in Western liberalism thinks about their attitude toward things like free speech? Are you sweating in the marble hallways for another arc tweet from user @ islingtonguy5555, another moralizing column on the Guardian Sport pages?

Perhaps the key is to realize that Qatar is talking to its neighbors, not us. In a small nation surrounded by hostile powers, the greatest fear is security. The real currency of the World Cup is the noise, the eyes, the rolling news machine, Beckham in an immaculate white robe juggling a ball in front of a huge fountain. All of this is a form of visibility. And who knows, perhaps Qatar 2022 has already served its key purpose through the lockdown crisis, when fear of coups and acquisitions seemed to lurk out of sight.

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Reduced to day zero in Zurich, and that room was already crammed with top-notch oddities, from sports royalty, political royalty, and royal royalty to the ground-floor view of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, crawling through the area of press deleting details. of the vote, rolling his eyes and saying, “we never had a chance”; Vladimir Putin wandering around unexpectedly and sitting in a small chair, center stage, answering questions from behind his wired security.

Qatar 2022, the soccer entity, will pass with the usual glow of the television product. But this is the company that maintains the sport now, the forces that have brought us here, leaving a trail of criminals, thugs and victims in their wake. Just seeing this sometimes feels like complicity. All we can do, a year from now, is continue to tell the story.

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