On Sunday 20 November the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup competition begins with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium. Am I excited? Am I looking forward to this edition which for the first time takes place in Winter rather than the traditional summer period?
Quite simply – No.
Part of it is due to the fact that it comes after a loaded sporting few weeks of tournaments both here in England and abroad featuring our national teams, as well as events such as the NFL International Series games at Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. As a fan I’ve shared the disappointment as the Red Roses, England women’s rugby union team, agonisingly lost to their New Zealand counterparts in the Final down-under, and in the Rugby League World Cup here in England where both the Men’s and Women’s suffered Semi-Final defeats. However, there has been joy though as the Men captured the T20 cricket trophy over Pakistan, and the Men’s England Wheelchair Rugby League side became World Cup winners.
Given this mega-feast of sport lately, the World Cup seems like an afterthought.
Of course after the Lionesses triumph in this summer’s European Championships and the Three Lions, run to the 2018 World Cup Semi-Final and European Championship Finals last year, expectation and excitement for football should be high. However, for me the Nations League performances against Germany, Hungary, and Italy showed that Gareth Southgate has taken the side as far as he can and there’s no disgrace in that given what he has achieved in his time in charge.
Other reasons for not being ‘up’ for the World Cup. Well, there are the much publicised concerns regarding Qatar’s stance on same-sex relationships, its human rights record and treatment of migrant workers. Additionally there must be real concerns over player and indeed match officials health in such temperatures. Nobody wants a repeat of the Christian Eriksen incident in the recent Euros.
Then there is FIFA swerving any position around the rainbow rainbow-coloured armband featuring a rainbow heart design to campaign against discrimination that some team captains will be wearing. The FIFA position is very much, don’t upset our hosts, it’s all about the football – totally blinkered. But what do you expect when the FIFA delegates will want for nothing in Qatar during their time in the Middle East. Who said corruption and backhanders within the walls of Zurich are dead? Politics and football – a heady mix but one football’s governing body will be engaging in during the coming weeks to defend the decision to be in Qatar.
Then this week late in the day more negative publicity. Firstly, another example of one rule for fans and one for the rest, as beer will not be sold to supporters, yet those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol. Then it has been followed by a curious speech by FIFA President Infantino which opened with the line: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.” We thought Blatter was bad, but here we are with another man in power messily defending the award of the World Cup to a country that bought the right to host it.
The most bizarre World Cup looms, who knows what it will bring.