Jack Keegan looks back on the highs, lows, and controversies of the 2022 Fifa World Cup
Watching fixtures such as Liverpool versus Wolves in the FA Cup makes the World Cup feel like an age ago, when in reality, Gonzalo Montiel's penalty that secured the World Cup for La Albiceleste was just over a month ago. For many of us, it was an emotional affair. Seeing Lionel Messi walk in the footsteps of giants like Pelé, Diego Maradona, and Fabio Cannavaro would bring a tear to the eye of even the hardest of football fans.
It was a stunning World Cup, one that will be retold for generations. Saudi Arabia's incredible win over the eventual winners, Vincent Aboubakar's audacious chip versus Serbia and a fairy-tale story provided by Morocco. This World Cup had it all. Every single box ticked.
Yet this World Cup casts a dark shadow on the world of sport. A shadow that is too easily ignored due to what occurred on the pitch. A sports washing campaign that was so effective, it bled its way into the trophy presentation. Seeing Messi being awkwardly draped in a bisht (an Arab tunic that is typically worn by religious leaders or royalty) was the icing on the sports washing cake.
Sports washing is not a new phenomenon; Adolf Hitler's Olympics, Benito Mussolini's World Cup, Juan Peron's World Cup, and Vladimir Putin's World Cup, to name a few. This World Cup is different, though. Never has the public been so well informed of the countless human and workers' rights violations in a country that many of us probably would not have been able to locate on a map before the tournament. But what was the point of it all? What will Qatar 2022's legacy be?
Well, the short and long of it is that there was no point to it, other than cleansing Qatar's identity via sport. Legacy is an odd topic within mega-events. It isn't about what occurred within the event, but what comes after. Take the London Olympics, for example, which is used as the gold standard of mega events in terms of legacy. Many of the facilities used then now have a purpose, such as the London Stadium, which is home to West Ham.
In the case of Qatar, there is no legacy except memories. Stadium 974, which was made from 974 shipping containers, is being dismantled and moved to Uruguay. By removing a piece of physical evidence of the tournament and moving it to another nation, you destroy the legacy of the event, and allow another country to attach its identity to it. Portugal's scintillating win over Ghana at Stadium 974 was forever discarded into the abyss, in the name of profit.
Harsh moments often take away the fantasy of a spectacle. Once it is realised that an estimated 6,500 people - not migrant workers, people - died to make stadiums built upon the foundation of vanity and greed, the fantasy is ruined. People from developing nations such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh were promised a better life, honest work and a way to support their families back home. This dream was sold on false pretences. Men and women shoved into squalor were forced to pay huge recruitment fees to work for the hiring company, had wages withheld, and had their passports confiscated so they could never return to their homes unless they were shipped back in a coffin.
In Qatar, the punishment for being a part of the LGBTQ+ community carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years. And once the FA banned Harry Kane from wearing the One Love armband, football showed where football's loyalties lie. The One Love armband is wishy-washy enough as it is, and it does not nail its colours to the LGBTQ+ mast as it is not officially affiliated with the community. A hollow gesture if there ever was one.
Contrast this with the Iranian players who refused to sing their national anthem while fans jeered it. At the same time, people in their native land were being executed for protesting against the current regime. Think what may await them at home. Not wearing an armband for fear of getting a yellow card is extremely cowardly. You have to leave the responsibility to the players, adult men who can make decisions for themselves. You go out, take that yellow card, and stand up for what you believe in. That makes it something real. An act of defiance. You have proven that your gesture was insincere by wilting.
This is the football we now know, where not everyone is allowed. Where puppet masters hiding in the shadows pull the strings. This is football. This is the 'beautiful game.'