Not My World Cup

I began blogging in 2010 to promote the first edition of my book, The Beautiful Mind Game. This coincided with the FIFA Football World Cup of that year, an event that always spreads interest in soccer.

The political backdrop at that time was that the host country, South Africa, was staging its’ first serious global sporting event since Nelson Mandela had been released from prison in 1990 and it represented a new sense of openness. It was the first World Cup outside Europe or The Americas and represented, in theory, a new dawn of football bringing joy and peace to the world. Soccer was touted as the new benign crusader, cuddling the whole planet in two soft arms. South Africa, once the ignoble white envoy of the Dark Continent was seeking acceptance as an outward-facing and politically corrected country. It was no longer only known for suppressing its First Nations peoples and shiny diamond mines but for now, knowing how to kick a ball that wasn’t shaped like a large leathery egg (i.e. Rugby), more of which later.

Although that competition did not spawn a great birth of football in South Africa, it did at least have some good intentions and even FIFA appeared to have their hearts in the right place.

But, that was then and this is now.

Football-wise, 2010 was also infamous for FIFA selecting two long-term World Cup venues, Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

They probably recognised that the 2006 competition was the last proper one. It was held in an organised country, Germany and was won by the creative and beautiful team from Italy. Europe’s top two football nations had delivered a perfect competition. The 2014 World Cup was scheduled for Brazil which at least had a passionate and football-knowledgable public and was considered not too bad an option as an antidote to South Africa. SA’s inadequacy was apparent as soon as the decision was made. Predicted failures in the experiment were manifested as soon as preparations (I use the word generously) began. Slow-built stadiums and of course, corruption became immediate issues. After the competition, South Africa was not left not with a soccer legacy but a pile of unused edifices that had become dust-bowls and weed sanctuaries.

But the rot continued

The 2014 World Cup is primarily remembered because global darlings Brazil, conceded seven goals to the eventual victors Germany. Everything else has been wisely forgotten, including that the scarcely used Estadio Mane Garrincha in Brasilia was later converted into a bus depot. Even back in 2010, FIFA must have had a feeling in their guts that things were going wrong but instead of reverting to a steady format and hosting it in a first-world football country such as England, they opted to re-boot and selected two more outliers for two competitions in one go. The error this time was that they abandoned good intentions and simply picked the highest-paying bidders. Organisational skills and an established football fan base were no longer enough. Russia was never more than a peripheral football nation. Any good it may have derived from hosting the 2018 event has evaporated like the bomb smoke they are visiting upon Ukraine and their constant institutional drug cheating in any sporting event their presence tarnishes.

Don’t laugh, It’s Qatar!

So much has been and will be said, so allow me to put bullet points, you can Google the rest.

  1. Football will be played in a geographically unfit environment. Soccer was born on the muddy grass fields of the United Kingdom and will not translate in the long term to a hot sandy terrain that gets picked up by the wind and outdoor air-conditioners and blown in your eyes.
  2. Even if the people of Qatar were to engage in the sport, it will never grow to the levels of Europe and Central/South America and pull in global audiences.
  3. Even with the recent relaunch of soccer in the USA, the MLS remains a retirement home for aged European and Central/South American star turns. China has tried to emulate this second-hand American dream but it too remains a last-chance saloon instead of the freshly laid egg that cracks open to reveal a flock of Golden Geese.
  4. Perhaps, just perhaps if the World Cup had been staged in an emancipated location like Scandinavia, America’s East or West Coasts or Canada, a gay male player would finally feel safe in coming out and proving, as many have done in silence, that they can successfully play at the top level.
  5. And as for women. How can anyone support a belief system that promotes misogyny and subjugation when all men have had a mother or a sister or have been lucky enough to live among both? Other writers are expressing this in much greater depth than I am, but the bottom line is that a football World Cup should not be staged in a country where women’s football is not played.

In 2010, Football began looking towards equality. It didn’t manifest too well, but it made a start. In that same year, FIFA opted to reverse the gesture and here we are, 12 years later with blood on the hands of stadium owners and minority people being liable to arrest for holding hands and chastisement for existing.

Finish on a positive!

Above, I referred to a Rugby ball as a leathery egg and neither version of Rugby has ever interested me. However, on November 12th 2022, I caught a glimpse of the Rugby Union World Cup on TV. This competition comprises three concurrent events: Women, Wheelchair and Men. What amazed me was that the Wheelchair teams include women and men and I was delighted to see that Wales played two fantastic female players; Lucie Roberts (see photo) and Jodie Boyd-Ward.

Having a competition that includes three strands is an excellent idea in itself. Having mixed-gender teams that compete on an equal level despite gender differences is the best sporting concept of the century. We should let Rugby lead the way.

Lucie Roberts. She takes no prisoners.