Some of my greatest regrets in life are things I’ve declined on principle. So in many ways, I’m sorry not to be in Qatar for the World Cup. On reflection, I’d have liked to take a detailed look at the horror show, in situ. I was once extremely close to travelling with Donald Trump’s presidential party and some bad boys of Brexit to Mississippi, where the fash-Wotsit was guest of honour at the opening of a civil rights museum, of all things. Insulting? Disgusting? Grotesque? Obviously. But let me tell you: there would have been plenty to write about. I’d have got 5,000 words out of the plane flight alone.
Fast forward to the present day, then, and I am nearly disappointed not to be seeing one of the great horrors of the sporting/geopolitical age in inglorious technicolour. Then again, how many words are honestly available? It’s possible Fifa has finally contrived to pull off the genuinely unprecedented: a World Cup where, two days out from kick-off, there is only one thing to say about it all.
Even someone as electrifyingly articulate as David Beckham is reduced to promoting Doha by claiming “it’s one of the best spice markets I’ve ever been to”. Surely not better than the Say You’ll Be There video, the spice market where he chose his wife? (And which, coincidentally, was also desert-based.) Unfortunately, the only thing anyone now wants to hear from Beckham is an answer to the question “how much money is enough?”. Some estimates place his Qatar promotional fee at £150m over 10 years, which is about £12m for every hour he did earning PR points in the queue for the late Queen’s lying-in-state. Cynical? Hey – it’s not me who’s a self-marketed metrosexual whose family wealth was recently estimated at £425m, yet who somehow wants even more cash from a regime that imprisons and brutalises gay people.
Given the choice of addressing this or the modern slavery deaths, I see Gianni Infantino has instead taken refuge in some mad diversity-and-inclusion message. The Fifa president recently released a snippy little open letter to national football associations. “At Fifa,” this ran, “we [try not] to hand out moral lessons to the rest of the world.” Very wise. It would be like Charles Bronson drawing himself up to his full height and explaining that at HMP Woodhill, he tries not to hand out moral lessons to the rest of the world.
The Fifa boss went on to tell fans to shut up about Qatar and love the World Cup, because: “No one people or culture or nation is ‘better’ than any other … this is also one of the core values of football.” To which the only decent reply is: what are you talking about, you grasping shitmuncher? The entire point of your tournament is for one nation to be better than any other! That is literally what international sport is! And guess what – the nation that ends up being better at football is not going to be Qatar, who are a) crap and b) treat people like crap.
Honestly, can someone mint a participation medal for Gianni – preferably one that weighs 250 kilos, to keep him rooted to the spot for the entire tournament, and able only to contemplate the radioactively sarcastic words of its engraving: “WELL DONE FOR TRYING”.
If not, we’re going to be subjected to weeks of him offering variants of his recent exhortation: “Please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists!” OMG, likewise? Can YOU stop also allowing it to be? Fifa voted for the two most recent World Cups to go to Russia and Qatar, which is about as nonpolitical and nonideological as things screamed off various European balconies during the first half of the 20th century.
Anyway: is there anything to love about the imminent World Cup? Certainly not the sensational last-minute beer ban. (Although let’s face it – serving only Budweiser was already a de facto beer ban.) I’m told the tiny geographic scale offers itinerant fans some “logistical relief”. It takes longer to get from Infantino’s eyebrows to his hairline than it does to travel between the various host cities. And I like the fact that as part of their attempts to create some kind of fan Stasi, the hosts have reportedly paid for some of the England Band to attend. That means that every time you hear arguably the nation’s most annoying sound (including a reversing Securicor vehicle), you’ll forever know that some of its purveyors have shown their arses for coins. Arguably a valuable public service.
But, hand on heart, my favourite thing so far is the Qatar World Cup stadium that looks like a vagina. I feel it says everything about what we’re dealing with. Consider this: at no point in the design sign-off process did one of the guys on the organising committee – and it will have been all guys – have the balls to say: “Look lads, I might end up taking a lot of stick, but doesn’t this … doesn’t this look like a vagina?” I mean, come on – they must have seen one.
More to the point, in a country where you can be arrested for being gay, you’d have thought it a social imperative for these men to publicly show an easy familiarity with the intimate parts of the female anatomy. Yet every single one of them appears to have been too fearful of something to say anything, which means that they’ve ended up with THE biggest self-own of a stadium in world sport. And so it is that – game after game – “dignitaries” from this vicious, censorious, homicidal, women-hating regime will turn out to sit in a giant fanny. It doesn’t remotely make up for the rest of it, obviously. But I am here for that spectacle, at least.
Marina Hyde’s World Cup Week will appear each Friday during the tournament