As the tournament wore on, the broadcasters finally worked out how the make-up lady could get her bag into the stadium without being subjected to an exhausting and inconvenient search every time. They let a man carry it.
Make-up men didn’t seem to attract the attention of security guards the way make-up ladies did. Their bags with the same contents were, for some reason, much less interesting to them. Just as rainbow apparel worn by female Welsh supporters was deemed less acceptable than when worn by male companions.
There was a similar disconnect in the corridors of the powerful. It wasn’t a man working for ITV who was asked to stand concealed in a glorified cupboard lest his presence offend the VIPs who would soon be passing. It was a woman.
Countries must stand up to Gianni Infantino (centre) ahead of 2030 World Cup bids
There have been many people prepared to play games with equivalency, and many guests closeted in five-star locations who checked in their powers of observation along with their luggage but never checked their privilege. To get a kick out of Qatar’s World Cup meant ignoring the subtle inconsistencies happening right under your nose.
It meant accepting that we will never know how many deaths built those beautiful stadiums, the Metro and the surrounding infrastructure, but we can presume hundreds and maybe thousands. It meant admitting that the battle to make FIFA acknowledge their role in the human cost, morally or financially, was largely lost. It meant having to listen to the hideous Gianni Infantino lie and obfuscate his way through another self-aggrandising address: the greatest group stage ever; the greatest World Cup ever; the president will stand for election, next year, unopposed.
Think about that, for a second. The man who oversaw this has no challengers. Nobody is even moved to go through the motions of opposition. No point. Infantino 1 Resistance 0.
FIFA and Qatar ended up being unopposed in the way they were able to build – and then run – the World Cup in 2022
By the end, the World Cup felt like the final scene of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. The wronged are dead. The monster gets away with it. The detective watches on. He knows how twisted and corrupt and unjust it all is. ‘Forget it, Jake,’ he is told. ‘It’s Chinatown.’
And that’s what Qatar 2022 was. Chinatown. We watched powerless, for the most part. Nothing you could do, nothing you could write, nothing you could say, would stop it. The FBI went after those who brought the tournament here, got their convictions, and it made no difference. Corruption was proven but it went ahead just the same.
Through the work of pressure groups, NGOs and media exposés, we know about migrant worker deaths, migrant worker living and site conditions, migrant worker pay and terms. There have been changes, but for many, too late.
The broadcasters soon realised how they could get the make up bag into grounds without much trouble – get a man to carry it
Football’s other power brokers – outside of FIFA – must simply just utter the word ‘No’
Qatar 2022 rolled over us and we had to lie back and take it. And, because we did, the temptation is to think that we must do so again. That after this, wherever Infantino and his henchmen want to drag the World Cups of the future, however repressive, however alienating for the marginalised sections of society, we can only wring our hands and observe. We sit trapped, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, our eyelids pinned back, made to watch the horror show.
But that isn’t true. There is another way. Oh, it’s high risk, high stakes stuff. It’s a gamble. It will require nerves of steel. Yet it’s simple. It just needs those who run football to say the one word that lodges in their throat, often when it matters most. It requires them to reject a basic tendency towards greed and complicity, but here’s what they do. They say no.
No to coming to a country that does not genuinely welcome everybody. No to the rejection of basic human rights. So, no to Saudi Arabia in 2030. Not if the gay community are made to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable.
Not if a woman in sight of the VIPs causes offence. On the eve of this tournament, Infantino spoke of being happy to take the World Cup to Iran, where those speaking out for women’s rights are now being executed and arrested. And we’re happy with that?
If you’ve been out here, think of the young, female volunteers stationed on the Metro, in the streets, at the stadiums. Helpful, happy, smiling, the future. That’s the section of society now under attack in Iran. As they would be here, as they would be in Saudi Arabia, if they joined protests. Still happy?
Countries must do all in their power to prevent the 2030 World Cup going to Saudi Arabia
What we are now told is that Qatar 2022 is the playbook for other sporting power grabs by similarly repressive autocrats, that Saudi Arabia have been looking on and taking notes, readying for their own bid, soon.
No doubt that is true. It is very obvious what Qatar has got from hosting this tournament and its use of major sport to help forge connections in the western world. From a Qatari perspective, this has been amazing. They even got to cloak Messi as one of their own, wrapped in a bisht, a traditional ceremonial robe, by the Emir on the podium, as the creep Infantino grinned and genuflected.
Like Polanski’s monster, he got away with it. And they got away with it. Qatar could even bask in the reflected glory of a truly mesmerising World Cup final. Politically, as a result of its oil, gas and smart soft power geo-politics, Qatar was the biggest winner of them all. Bigger than Messi, even bigger than Argentina. It has the United States by its side now. Attempts by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to paint it as the facilitator of Al-Qaeda and Isis have failed.
Qatar was a political winner from the World Cup – but its power also stems from other areas
The largest US air force base on foreign soil is at Al Udeid, south-west of Doha. Over 11,000 US and US-led coalition forces are stationed there. This doesn’t happen because a country hosts a few football matches — western reliance on Qatari energy is vital too — but it is part of a normalisation process. And it makes little Qatar big players in the region. That is the local supremacy Saudi Arabia is desperate to regain.
And now they’ve seen how to present a case. How to wrap hosting duties in the cloak of change, whether meant or not, how to present intolerance as future tolerance, theocratic conservatism as desire for progress; they know the PR companies to engage and how to recast legitimate questions as Orientalism. They know who the useful idiots are, and what their price is. They like their fellow celebrities, five-star hotels, fancy restaurants and playing padel, most of them.
Yet we know some things, too. We know what might work and what does not. We know the difference between resistance and empty sloganeering. And we know that, next time, the stand against FIFA’s wilful avarice and absence of human concern must be much, much stronger.
What doesn’t work? Armbands. Silly, meaningless, irrelevant, armbands, and the soundbites that go with them. Anything that can be countered successfully by the threat of a yellow card is lame. Vague compromise protests are also worthless, as is leaving it until the World Cup is months away to make your move. By then, the juggernaut cannot be stopped.
Everything the Football Association signed up for in agreement with other UEFA nations can be consigned to the bin.
But simply saying no? That has possibilities. Saudi Arabia in 2030? No. Think of the backlash against the Super League. It collapsed, pretty much, because the fans refused to engage.
That’s all it needed for the owners and directors of the six most powerful English clubs to cave. No. To the matches, to the tickets, to the broadcast packages, to the products. And, of course, the Government’s threatened legislative bomb helped, too. Yet if that had been the only obstacle the six would have seen them in court. The tipping point was fans taking to the streets outside stadiums, bluntly rejecting what had been proposed.
What if the nations who signed up for those useless rainbow armbands had got together from the very start when FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010, and refused to participate. England, Germany, Belgium, Holland — what other nations might then have been persuaded to make a stand? That’s protest. That’s FIFA’s language. Money. A World Cup without some of its most lucrative sponsors, broadcasters and fan groups? That’s a World Cup that might not fly.
One story was particularly illuminating – with a woman who worked for ITV being told to stand in a cupboard with VIPs set to pass her
FIFA think they know their constituents. That is why they announced an expanded Club World Cup last week without the permission of the relevant clubs and leagues. Infantino knows they’ll come round in the end, for the money, same as always. And depressingly, nobody ever proves him wrong.
And it’s not easy, being the rebel in an industry so basic. Governments did not make a stand against Qatar, and wouldn’t against Saudi Arabia. These countries are our allies, our supply line in a time of energy crisis. And not all in football are vexed by human rights. David Beckham obviously wasn’t, and Lionel Messi already has a deal to promote Saudi Arabian tourism.
If Cristiano Ronaldo signs for Al-Nassr, part of his package will almost certainly make him the face of any bid. Against this, retired footballers, no matter how great, are not what turns the financial wheels at a World Cup. Countries do. Big, influential football nations like Germany and England, who bolster FIFA’s revenue streams through sponsorship and broadcast rights. They have clout but never use it. Not if they can get away with an armband instead.
Countries like England should realise that it is within their remit to prevent such a tournament – in which thousands of lives were lost – from happening again
In Qatar we have been conditioned to think this was a fight we can never win. Dissenting nations will worry about being left isolated, players will revolt, why don’t we just get on with the game?
So your mate went to Qatar and he said he had a great time? Good for him — and it’s invariably a him. But his great time came at the expense of someone else’s abject misery, of people who just disappeared, their numbers unrecorded.
The alternative is to forget them, too. Launch another empty round of gestures, press releases, thoughts and prayers. There may be another way. It is not just the hosts who can learn from this experience.
Those in opposition to FIFA have a new playbook, too. Do more, go earlier. Next time, just say no.
A Ruud joke? Let’s hope so
Hurrying away from Lusail Stadium after Argentina’s win over Croatia, I bumped into Ruud Gullit. He had a big smile. ‘What do you think of the tournament, eh, Martin?’ he asked. I remembered that on the way home from Moscow in 2018, we’d had a lively discussion about Qatar. It’s fair to say he was an advocate, and I wasn’t.
So I said what I thought. That the football had been great. But then tournament football usually is. I hadn’t changed my mind on the location. It was a largely efficient World Cup also, but it came at too high a price.
He seemed disappointed. ‘You guys, you’re always moaning, you never learn,’ he said. ‘That’s why you end up with a referee from South America.’
And he meant it as a joke, but really? That’s the deal? England get Wilton Sampaio because its media reports on migrant worker deaths. I can’t believe that, not even of FIFA — but if it’s even a quarter true, it’s worse than we thought.
It should be hoped that Ruud Gullit’s joke about Wilton Sampaio was exactly that – a joke
Sadly, it seems Wenger means it
Gianni Infantino can say he feels gay, disabled, ginger, like a migrant worker, he can babble and dissemble to his heart’s content, and it makes no difference. The president of FIFA has no reputation to lose. Arsene Wenger does. He was The Professor, he was a brain; smart, urbane, respected for his intellect and manner.
So when he orbits a World Cup parroting vapid platitudes about focusing on football and affording the governing body ill-gotten credibility, it is an unfortunate act of selfharm. If Wenger is saying what his friends at FIFA wish to hear, it is sad; if he genuinely believes some of this nonsense, it is even sadder.
Southgate you’re the one
Gareth Southgate changed his mind about this being his last gig as England manager. Good. Given the options, he remains the best man for the job.
No alcohol not the reason for lack of trouble in Qatar
No quibbles about beer not being freely available in a Muslim country, but its connection to zero arrests for England fans at the World Cup is rather overplayed. There were only three arrested in Russia in 2018, and no shortage of alcohol there.
Our mob have always known where they can play up. A country in which the World Cup chief executive responded to a worker fatality by blithely stating ‘death is a part of life’ is not the place. Nor was Putin’s Russia. Wembley, they fancy their chances.
England’s fans have always known where they can and can’t misbehave without repercussions
Friends, it’s time to say goodbye
Anyway, as they used to say on Andy Pandy, it’s time to go home. I’m privileged to leave on the high of a magical World Cup final, but this is my last column for the Daily Mail. Thanks to my wonderful colleagues, and to our readers, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
And I’m not really comfortable with sentimental goodbyes. So I’ll phone you.