Hilarious, in a way. The sight of Sepp Blatter, that vainglorious, ridiculous individual whom we assumed had crawled off into a hole, re-emerging to say, just days out from the Qatar World Cup, that gifting them the tournament had been a ‘mistake’, a ‘bad choice’.
It is hard to laugh at a scandal, though. At the cash in brown envelopes which preceded Blatter plucking a sheet of paper bearing the word ‘Qatar’ from a white envelope in 2010, with a big grin on his face. At the stories of young immigrant men on whose backs the Qatar World Cup has been built dying in their 20s and 30s after days of toil in unremitting heat, without so much as an explanation for the wives and children they leave behind.
The Qatar medical men tick the ‘natural causes’ box and send the bodies home to Delhi, Dhaka and Kathmandu. No questions asked.
Challenged on why Qatar was a ‘bad choice’, Blatter made no mention of the human rights scandal which stalks this tournament. ‘It’s too small a country,’ was his reasoning. ‘Football and the World Cup are too big for that.’ Well, it is evidently not too small a country for some.
The single pertinent question that Blatter raised in his hour or so of mud-slinging at his successor Gianni Infantino, for the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, was why the FIFA president is living in Qatar. ‘He can’t be the head of the local World Cup organisation. That’s not his job.’
As of Tuesday night, no satisfactory explanation of this had come from FIFA, an organisation desperate to tell us they have changed, yet seemingly incapable of persuading the boss that moving to the lap of luxury in Doha — then demanding the 32 competing nations put aside concerns about the country — is a very bad look.
We should be considering whether Lionel Messi’s last dance on the sport’s grandest stage will deliver him a World Cup at last. Whether Brazil’s new array of attacking options will trip the light fantastic and deliver the trophy home to Rio de Janeiro after a 20-year hiatus. But instead, the tournament finds itself beset by inevitable pronouncements and controversies which tarnish its name and rich history.
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter awarded Qatar the World Cup finals back in 2010
On the eve of the finals, Blatter has admitted his controversial decision was a ‘mistake’
Blatter’s bitching and the back-biting actually obscured the most disturbing pronouncement in the build-up to the tournament on Tuesday, when Khalid Salman, the former Qatar international footballer and ‘ambassador’ to the World Cup, said in an interview on German TV that homosexuality was ‘damage in the mind’.
The broadcaster, ZDF, cut the interview short before Salman could continue with this line of discussion.
A conflict, there, with Infantino’s proclamation last week that ‘everyone is welcome’ in the nation he now calls home, ‘regardless of origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality’.
But consider, too, the response when Gary Neville asked Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the World Cup’s ‘Supreme Committee’, on camera whether shows of public affection would be a problem for Qatar at this World Cup. ‘It’s important to highlight first whether it’s a gay couple or otherwise. Public displays of affection are not part of our culture,’ he replied.
Al Thawadi was all smiles while saying this, enjoying jokes with Neville in an interview for the pundit’s Sky Sports documentary which didn’t greatly test him.
We should be gearing up for the last World Cup to feature the legendary Lionel Messi
Blatter though only insists selecting Qatar was wrong because it was ‘too small a country’
Current FIFA president Gianni Infantino (left) has dodged issues of human rights abuses
Neville seemed to think visiting the worker accommodation blocks the Qataris wanted him to see told the full story. An hour up the road at the suffocating, stinking rooms of the Al-Sheehaniya camp would have revealed more.
Neville wasn’t so disturbed by what he saw to refuse the cash and decline working for the Qatar state broadcaster BeIN Sports at the World Cup.
And he had his justification ready when he appeared on Have I Got News For You last Friday. Ian Hislop put paid to Neville’s self-confidence when he rightly and memorably took him down.
You imagined that Neville, an intelligent individual with a serious work ethic, would have seen that one coming in a way that his friend and Qatari propagandist David Beckham would not. But Qatar, with its wealth and its relentless attempts to influence, has a habit of dazzling people.
The despicable treatment of its migrant workers goes on to this day. The Financial Times reported last weekend how many were being sent home in a process of ‘clearing space’ for the estimated 1.5million fans expected at the tournament, which starts a week on Sunday. They had taken out loans for their passage to Qatar and now have money-lenders demanding their money back, plus annual interest of 36 per cent.
The despicable treatment of its migrant workers at the tournament goes on to this day
Gary Neville was criticised on TV programme ‘Have I Got News For You’ over his Qatar links
Yet our own FA have not even allowed Amnesty International through their doors to explain the findings of its painstaking research on the subject. It has taken coaches like the Netherlands’ Louis van Gaal to stand up to Supreme Committee leaders who rebuke their critics as mis-informed and prejudicial.
‘Like any sane person, we are against the violation of human rights,’ Van Gaal said recently. ‘FIFA pretend football development is the main reason for a Qatar World Cup, when it’s all about the money.’
The managers of Premier League clubs have their own grounds for detesting all this. The indignation Jurgen Klopp expressed last week revolved around his players being asked to express a view on human rights when Qatar should never have been granted the tournament. Pep Guardiola hates the facts his international players will be worried about getting injured this weekend.
Blatter relayed in his interview that his deputy Michel Platini had asked how he would have reacted had the Swiss president asked him to fix a vote. ‘The question didn’t arise for me because we don’t have a president in Switzerland,’ he replied, oblivious to any notion of selecting a host nation on merit and shutting out the politicians.
These are the men who spawned this tournament. They just can’t help themselves. And that’s why the Qatar World Cup is toxic.