Monday, 20 October 2014

Qatar You Serious?!

I recently read an article on a satirical news site that declared ISIS had been selected to host the 2026 World Cup. “At FIFA we believe that football is a truly global game” read the imagined Sepp Blatter quote. The most striking thing about the article is how worryingly plausible it all is. Remember FIFA's admission that, when organising a tournament, democracy is a hindrance.

Back to reality, around this time four years ago, football fans everywhere waited to find out whether FIFA would look to North America, Asia or Australasia for hosts of the 2022 World Cup. There was that other option, the Middle East, but it was widely regarded a token candidate.

Immediately following Sepp Blatter's ceremonious envelope-opening the football world collectively paused - stunned and open-mouthed - before texting mates to condemn dear old Sepp in such a manic rush that one such message I received referred to him as a - presumably auto-corrected - corrupt blunt.

The most hated man in football.

Personally, not only was I disappointed - having hoped for an Aussie World Cup - I was curious. So much so that, on my way to South Africa to make a film about yet another FIFA-inspired scandal (namely, the building of Cape Town Stadium) I stopped over in Qatar with the intention of making an entirely separate film about their football culture.

It didn't materialise for two reasons: One, I was refused permission (bringing a camera into the country was fine, but if I pressed record I could be in serious trouble) and two, there was the somewhat debilitating issue of there not being a football culture. Subsequently, I found myself with the best part of a week in Doha, the capital - and pretty much only - city, with not an awful lot to do.

Seeking cultural immersion I couchsurfed with a local lad who was so trusting he left me a set of keys to his apartment before he'd even met me. I repaid his trust by accidentally traipsing all over his prayer mat with my shoes on: an act that was met with a horrified gasp followed by an awkwardly prolonged series of tuts. Suitably guilt-ridden I offered to buy him dinner that night, but he politely refused insisting that, as his guest, I shouldn’t have to spend a single riyal for the entire duration of my stay.

Doha, Qatar

Despite Prayer Mat Gate we got on well and it was a joy to be on the receiving end of this genuinely warm Islamic hospitality. However, as it happened, this generosity was just about the only thing in Qatar I did warm to. I left knowing I'd probably never return and feeling all the more disgruntled with FIFA. As someone who travels to major tournaments often I felt like they'd taken a World Cup away from me. More broadly speaking: I felt like they'd taken it away from the fans.

There are a range of reasons why Qatar is a terrible place to host this month-long festival of football. For a start, FIFA claim to be against discrimination and gender inequality yet fans traveling to Qatar will be entering a state where homosexuality is illegal, women still need permission to apply for a driving licence and rape within marriage is not considered a crime.

Then there are the practicalities: the temperature in Qatar can - and frequently does - get dangerously high. I went in the autumn and still couldn't handle the heat (whole swathes of the day were a write off) and there are legitimate concerns for the safety of the players. The original plan was to counter this by building air-conditioned stadiums, but these plans have now been scrapped.

Furthermore, there's the simple fact that not many Qataris really care much about football. This considered, you’d surely have to question the sanity of building eight - perhaps even ten – very expensive stadiums around the Yorkshire-sized country.

© The Guardian
Perhaps I could forgive them for all of the above, but for the fact that the tournament's infrastructure is being built at the cost of untold human death and misery. According to some sources a thousand slaves have already died on World Cup-related construction sites (That's right, slaves. Apparently it's still the 18th century over there). The International Trade Union Confederation has predicted the death toll could reach 4,000 by the time a ball is kicked.

You could argue that FIFA aren't to blame, and I would counter that argument by suggesting that you're talking out of your arse. They have the power to stop it today, but it's still happening. So fuck them, and fuck their World Cup in Qatar.