So, are you going to watch it? Are you going to watch the World Cup? It’s a heavy question, isn’t it?
With heavy answers stacked full of heavy implications. All too heavy, if you ask me. Way too heavy to ask of fans of what is, I urge you to remember, supposed to be a leisure activity. This is supposed to be fun. And it doesn’t feel like much fun right now.
Which is why, when I think about this World Cup, I mostly feel angry and more than a little defeated.
The majority of my anger, of any anger, should naturally fall to FIFA. Not just for the obvious stuff, the horrific corruption, the willingness to be a patsy for a regime allowing workers to die in unsafe conditions and maintaining discriminatory policies against the LGBTI+ community.
But also for the subtle shift of responsibility for morality to the fans.
They’ve acted shit enough for long enough now that common consensus is that we can’t expect any better of them. And now, we’re being asked to take the moral stand, to lead the way, to be the ones who show this World Cup for the farce that it is.
It all feels a bit like the Fortune 500 companies lecturing us on how to recycle to save the planet as they produce 80% of the pollution.
It also assumes that fans will and can move in one coordinated way. The excellent Oluwashina Okeleji explained recently on Second Captains that most fan criticism of the Qatar World Cup in Africa centres on the timing and the cost of getting to the tournament. In fact, as he outlined, Qatar’s policies on matters such as homosexuality would actually be seen as a positive in many African countries. It should be obvious, but this is of course a point of view I find fundamentally wrong. But it does go to show that placing the moral responsibility on fans will never be a simple thing to do.
FIFA are also owed our anger for placing such an asterisk on what should be a glorious thing. This is hardly the first World Cup taking place under questionable political conditions. This is arguably the fourth World Cup in a row that will cast a long historical shadow. But it will always be someone’s first, a kid falling in love with football and wondering why everyone’s opinion of this festival of football ranges from indifferent to angry. A Welsh fan savouring a first taste of a World Cup in 64 years. It will also always be someone’s last. The last rodeo for Messi and Ronaldo, forever enshrined in this bullshit, like Han Solo in carbonite, if that carbonite was made up of corruption, unsafe working conditions and 12 quid pints.
I find it hard to be too angry at the players taking part in the tournament, especially when the morally bankrupt values of this tournament run contrary to the many public, hugely positive impacts made by people like Sadio Mane or Marcus Rashford. The exceptions there, of course, are those who are pocketing money from ambassador deals for this or similar regimes. Little bummed me out quite as much as hearing about Leo Messi and the Saudi Arbia tourism board.
All of this anger is undercut by a sense of defeat, the overwhelming feeling that the gig is already up and Qatar have already gotten all they want.
Sportswashing as we have known it is surely now passé. Abusive regimes are not trying to distract us with shiny sporting baubles as they commit to morally dubious policies and practices. There’s no pretence of change.
Russia 2018, for example, was a chest beating exercise, a metaphorical landgrab four years after a literal one in Crimea. The Bear wanted to roar, to remind the other powers that it very much still could. And broadly, we were all guilty of going along with that, with hoping that by appeasing, things would change. We’ve seen the truth over the last 10 months.
Qatar 2024 isn’t about pretending that things can change. It also won’t be about crowing about the biggest TV viewing numbers or social media engagement (though that’ll probably happen).
Qatar already know that with enough money, you can buy anything. A designer watch, a hotel, the World Cup. But what they want is a seat at the big boy table.
Being ridiculously rich gives you a huge amount of power.
But there’s a certain type of power, and influence, that only comes with legitimacy. It’s why Pablo Escobar got into politics. There’s always another velvet rope, keeping the ‘others’ on the outside. Qatar are inside that rope now. Nothing else matters.
If we’re honest with ourselves, this World Cup is the natural endpoint of the last 30 years of football. Actually, of the last 30 years of society. Everything sacrificed at the alter of neo-capitalism, leading to a Christmas World Cup in a country the same size as Kerry and Cork combined and the world’s richest man overspending for an app and running it with all the divorce dad energy of Kirk Van Houten. I hate to come across like that meme where the old fella always ends up insisting that the problem is always capitalism. But the problem is always capitalism.
So. Where am I with that question I posed at the start? Will I watch the World Cup? I truly admire those people who will turn the tap off completely and won’t watch. Theirs is the course of action that I think history will judge kindest in the long run.
But there is already too much to be saddened about, worried about, for me to call a full halt. Where I am in my head with it is like a standard Premier League weekend. I’ll catch what I catch, and I’ll probably watch the bigger occasions. But I won’t plan my life around it. And I passionately intend to amplify stories and reporting and opinions that matter around the tournament, as opposed to my usual drivel. But it all feels wrong, stilted, disconnected. I’m angry, and I’m defeated