Qatar 2022 is a coup aimed at neighbors rather than European critics | World Cup 2022

ohthere is one year left, 11 in preparation. Welcome to Qatar 2022, the final countdown and a World Cup that, despite all the noise, the sense of fingers crossed and a look away from the bloodiest details, still makes no sense.

It was easy to get a little distracted when Sepp Blatter read the word “Qatar”, with a slight interruption in his voice, shortly after lunchtime on December 2, 2010. There was a hint of hysteria in the room. Fifa House bedroom. Ten minutes earlier, Blatter had broken the red wax seal on another padded envelope and had said “Russia”, with prolonged cries of joy.

The crowd had already started to boil. Rinsed-looking media types have shifted towards the exits. Blatter himself, so priapically alive in the presence of his fellow countryman gleaming and shining golden orb, the World Cup trophy, had started to fade a bit on stage, perhaps feeling the first thrills of the coming storm.

Qatar’s announcement brought a more localized wave of noise. Sitting in the row behind, you could feel the blast of the wind as the winning delegation leapt forward, all except Zinedine Zidane, whose sleek, bald, muscular head sat motionless above the back of his chair. There, no surprise. Zidane continued to wear the same look of a man vaguely worried about his dry cleaning ticket despite three successive Champions League wins. But it is also difficult to dispute this interrogative expression.

Since this weekend, we have exactly one year before the ignition. The Qatar 2022 opener will kick off at 10:00 GMT on November 21 at Al Bayt Stadium in the town of Al Khor, 80 kilometers from Doha on the northeast coast. It has been, without risk of being mistaken, an exceptionally busy journey up to this point, still dragged by so many unanswered questions. It is not about the “how”. We now know this was an extremely well executed plan to secure a first ever Gulf World Cup, which makes free English FA handbags, David Cameron-in-a-vest optics, naive air.

Zidane was paid $ 1 million to express his support for Qatar’s candidacy, offering a visible face – along with Pep Guardiola and Alex Ferguson – to a vast lobbying and back-channeling machine. If we are to believe Blatter, the fate of the candidacy had been fixed two weeks before Zurich around a lunch table at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Michel Platini firmly denied having transferred his vote to Qatar at the request of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim. In Blatter’s version, Platini has been on the phone from that lunchtime saying, “Sepp, this isn’t going to work, we’ll have a problem. Which would be at least one of the few unmistakably true statements in this whole sorry process.

Among those present at this table at the Elysee Palace, Sarkozy is currently serving a one-year sentence for political quarrel. Blatter and Platini were banned from football and prosecuted by prosecutors. This Fifa voting committee has been ravaged by bans and indictments. Zoom out and the light darkens.

Qatar is adamant there have been only a small number of fatalities surrounding their preparations for the World Cup. A Guardian report concluded that at least 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in the country since Qatar was granted accommodation rights. If we accept this figure, we must also accept that this is a blood-washed World Cup, played in large, illuminated structures that will be monuments to the suffering of those who built them. Welcome to Qatar 2022, already one of the most breathtaking sports stories ever told. Although he is still slipping out of sight.

Construction workers at Lusail Stadium in 2019. An estimated 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since winning the World Cup bid in 2010. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace / AFP / Getty Images

The real question is again, why? Why does Qatar want it? The assumption has been that this is a propaganda event. The phrase “sportswashing” has been coined recently, but this process has revolved around Fifa since Benito Mussolini’s World Cup and various post-war despot cases. It has been assumed that this is what Qatar wants, to present itself as a more liberal and open state, ready to dance the YMCA, to hand over your pint of limited edition lager, to reposition itself from an illiberal Gulf power. to just another player in the sun’s leisure economy.

And through that door we enter a maze of conflicting principles, a place where no one is ever really clean. Does it matter that Britain and Qatar are so closely linked on all other levels? Should the World Cup ever be played in a nation where, for example, homosexuality is still a crime? That was certainly the case in England in 1966, so there is at least one precedent.

This allows for a practical blurring of lines and interests. And how much easier to take a shortcut in this world through pop culture, spend your resources paying David Beckham to look generously baffled in scenic places, on the Alexa Chung show “Put a display on legs” at the Qatari Fashion Trust Awards.

Take a closer look, however, and it seems blindly Eurocentric. Qatar is one of the richest countries on the planet. It is currently the UK’s gas supplier of last resort, kindly leading four spare tankers to these shores just last month. Why would he need to sell himself? Do we think those in power care what a waning tension of Western liberalism thinks about their attitude to things like free speech? Are they sweating in the mottled hallways on another tweet from user @ islingtonguy5555, another judgmental column in the pages of Guardian Sport?

Perhaps the key is to understand that Qatar is addressing its neighbors, not us. In a small nation surrounded by hostile powers, the greatest fear is security. The real motto of the World Cup is the noise, the eyeballs, the rolling newspaper machine, Beckham in crisp white robes juggling a ball in front of a massive fountain. This is all a form of visibility. And who knows, maybe Qatar 2022 has already achieved its main goal through the blockade crisis, when fear of coups and takeovers seemed to lurk as far as the eye can see.

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Thank you for your opinion.

Return to day zero in Zurich, and this room was already filled with oddities of A-List, sporting royalty, political royalty, and actual royalty at the sight of London Mayor Boris Johnson marching down below. wolf in the press area recounting the details of the vote, rolling his eyes and saying, “we never had a chance”; to Vladimir Putin unexpectedly stepping out and sitting in a small chair, in the center of the stage, to answer questions behind his wired security.

Qatar 2022, the footballing entity, will pass under the usual glow of the TV product. But it’s the company the sport keeps now, the forces that have brought us here, leaving a trail of crooks, henchmen and victims in its wake. Just looking at this thing sometimes feels like complicity. All we can really do in a year is keep telling the story.

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