Qatar, Qatar, Qatar; what are we going to do with you? It is a country the size of Yorkshire yet there are no counterparts to Brian Clough, Hillsborough and Elland Road. A local under-9s side has a stronger footballing tradition than the Gulf state. In the height of summer, temperatures can soar to upwards of 50 degrees Celsius. Doha, the capital, is simply a city within a desert. Football in June and July, the traditional time for the World Cup, is not possible. Deaths of footballers are unfathomable. Yet the deaths of almost 1,000 migrant workers are apparently an unfortunate but necessary price for hosting the world’s biggest football tournament.
Judging by recent allegations in The Sunday Times, it was not the only price to pay. According to the newspaper Mohammed Bin Hamman dished out upwards of $5 million in ‘financial aid’ to significant figures within African and Central American football. Well – some say ‘financial aid’, others say bribes. It shouldn’t take much reading between the lines to know where I stand on this debacle.
Debacle is putting it lightly. From the aforementioned dubious voting process through to Michael Garcia’s current judicial inquiry in to the validity of the vote, everything stinks. Emanating from Qatar to Gambia, Trinidad and Tobago to Djibouti and culminating in FIFA HQ in Zurich there is a horrible stench of lies, corruption and deceit.
Why then, is said inquiry being cut short and not taking into account The Sunday Times’ revelations? Why is it imperative for it to be over by the time the World Cup kicks off in Brazil? Simply, it is not.
The extent to which Bin Hamman’s financial arm stretches, one can only guess. And fear.
The integrity of the World Cup is under threat. The integrity of our World Cup is under threat. And there is nothing we can do about it.
The FIFA World Cup is meant to be the pinnacle of world football. I’ve used the phrase before but it is a festival of football. For five weeks the footballing communities in Japan and South Africa, Ecuador and Australia turn their focus on the same 52 matches once every four years. Almost five thousand minutes of football are crammed into 35 days.
World Cups are the setting for the greatest moments in football. From Geoff Hurst’s Wembley hat-trick, to Roger Milla’s corner-flag dance the World Cup provides us with memories. It provides us with stories. It provides history.
The World Cup is more than that. It is a distraction from the everyday ills of society. It is a chance to feel joy and happiness. It is time to hope. Whilst Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo make the ball dance to the tune of their trickery, the Favelas outside of Rio de Janeiro are filled with football-mad frenzy. African slums are ablaze with activity; every kid trying to replicate Luis Suarez’s trick that left Phil Jagielka in a crumpled, embarrassed mess.
Should there be no re-vote and the World Cup is held in Qatar in eight years time, it would be a World Cup to be forgotten. Taking place throughout November and December it would be overshadowed by Christmas. Hours of matches will be missed through necessary schoolwork. The wet and the cold will sullen the atmosphere. Bars and pubs will be half-full, many unwilling to trudge through the snow to watch (what we can all safely expect to be) a distinctly mediocre England side as they bow out in the quarter-finals with a plucky, underdog performance against one of the world’s elite.
Festival of football? More like a month of an utter and unadulterated obligation of crap.
The World Cup cannot be held in Qatar. Whether you want to cite moral reasons, football reasons, health and safety reasons or even practical reasons it is absurd to contemplate the tournament in the Emirati. How can FIFA stand by a tournament where the host doesn’t allow gays, Jews and uncovered women into a stadium? It is obscene.
There are plenty of other suitable locations. The USA has the infrastructure to cope. The quantity and quality of stadia all over the country coupled with the booming MLS gives it great variety. If not there is Australia. The SCG and MCG are ready made sporting venues used to hosting vast numbers of Fosters-fuelled supporters. Football is a rapidly growing sport; demonstrated by the presence of the great Emile Heskey in the Hyundai A-League. What’s more, we all know the only thing the Aussies love more than fiercely competitive sport is a barbeque and a beer. They love a party.
Should the World Cup be held in America it would be a great, if slightly flamboyant, spectacle. A World Cup in Australia would be a festival in the truest sense of the word.
A World Cup in Qatar would be none of these. It would be a catastrophe.