In his opening monologue to the camera, marking the start of the 22nd FIFA World Cup, Gary Lineker got the mood surrounding Qatar spot-on. In his introduction, the presenter matter-of-factly and plainly stated, “this is the most controversial World Cup in history.”
Truly, one cannot provide an example of a World Cup that had been shrouded in such unbelievable negativity and dispute as Qatar 2022. Everything started with the scheduling of the tournament in winter, causing football seasons around the world to be disrupted. In turn, the winter affair took away the typical association of the World Cup with the joyous summer months – something that football fans hold incredibly dear.
More seriously, news surrounding the Qatari treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, Jewish fans, and migrant workers has continued to feed into the atmosphere leading up to the tournament. Subsequently, what is usually an iconic exciting global spectacle has become a battleground for moral and political disputes. For football fans, this has stripped the World Cup back from anything but football and national pride.
In order to bring the World Cup back to its football focus, it’s time for a mid-point review. Let’s look at the tournament’s successes and examine how the actual events of Qatar 2022 stack up against the points made during its unprecedentedly negative build-up.
The first thing that must be discussed when attempting to provide an embryonic assessment and review of the events of Qatar 2022 so far, is the obvious showpiece of the event – the footballing action on the pitch. When viewing the tournament from a purely footballing perspective, this year’s World Cup has delivered. The tournament has already provided us with a wealth of exciting sporting action, such as Cameroon’s breathtaking comeback from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Switzerland, and Spain’s methodical 7-0 destruction of a poor Costa Rica, that will surely go down as iconic in years to come.
There have also been a number of upsets that have served to compound the exciting nature of the tournament, including Saudi Arabia’s brutal takedown of Argentina, and Japan’s comeback win against Germany. Moreover, in yet another mouth-watering twist, there is still (at the time of writing) something to play for in terms of qualification for the knockout stages of every single group in the tournament, meaning there is plenty more exciting action to come!
One slight dampener that can be placed on the footballing action so far though, is the mixed performance of the two representatives of the home nations at the tournament – England and Wales. England started resoundingly and emphatically, taking apart Iran 6-2 in their first game on 21st November, with them racing into a 3-0 lead in the first half. But, questions have once again been raised about the team’s quality, and the abilities of their manager Gareth Southgate, after they stumbled and were arguably outplayed in a 0-0 draw against the US. Additionally, Wales, in their first World Cup in over six decades, have been lame at best. Drawing 1-1 in a complete deadlock with the US, and heartbreakingly losing 2-0 to Iran after conceding two goals in injury time.
Yet away from the football pitch, the controversy has not at all dissipated, and despite the enjoyment, there are still consistent reminders of the distinctly ugly nature of this tournament. There have been repeated abhorrent incidents surrounding Qatar’s draconian and at best medieval laws towards members of the LGBTQ+ community. The captains of the England and Germany teams were threatened with bookings by FIFA if they wore ‘OneLove’ armbands in support of the LGBTQ+ community in their opening games. And Welsh fans – before their opening game against the US – reported having bucket hats with LGBTQ+ insignia on them confiscated from them by Qatari authorities.
Members of other minority groups have also faced unacceptable discrimination in Qatar, as the 10,000 or so Jewish fans that have made the journey to watch the World Cup have reported being denied the right to public prayer by the Qatari authorities – a right they were initially promised would be protected. Additionally, reports have also continued to come out about the disgraceful and inhumane treatment of migrant workers. 6,000 workers sadly died as a result of unacceptable working conditions and treatment by the Qatari authorities. All of them were enlisted to build the showpiece stadiums in which the tournament’s footballing action has been played out.
Following on, when it comes to the experience of the one million or so fans who have journeyed to Qatar to watch their teams participate in the World Cup, the quality of the experience has certainly been a mixed bag. Reports around the potential fan experience during the World Cup were some of the most negative in the days building up to kick-off in the tournament, as the Qatari authorities took the decision to ban the consumption of alcohol inside stadiums, disrupting the staple presence of alcohol in the footballing culture of Europe and South America. However, alcohol is still accessible to many football fans in fan zones, and fans are greatly enjoying themselves in Qatar, as increasing amounts of supporters groups converge on the tiny nation, and help to build an atmosphere.
Nevertheless, some fans have had no choice but to stay in lackluster and over-priced temporary accommodation for the course of the tournament. These living quarters have no air conditioning, despite the searing heat of Qatar’s desert climate, and running water that is visibly dirty.
To conclude, just eight days into the most controversial edition ever of the FIFA World Cup, there are certainly many elements of the tournament so far that have been positive. The footballing action has been captivating – regardless of some unimpressive performances by England and Wales – and the majority of fans certainly seem to be enjoying themselves. Yet this cannot detract from the continued problems of LGBTQ+ rights, migrant worker deaths, and a lack of religious freedom. These have greatly harmed the tournament’s image, and the security and happiness of many fans, as well as Qatari citizens.
Moreover, any review of the tournament provided at such an early point as this will be at best rudimentary. Only the annals of time will decide how much of a success Qatar 2022 – “the most controversial” edition of the tournament in history – really has been.