Qatar and FIFA can reassure all they like - this World Cup is threatening to become a spectacle of horror

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A key ambassador for this winter’s tournament has caused controversy with series of homophobic comments.

When Sepp Blatter, a man who has made Montgomery Burns look like Mother Teresa in days of yore, is acting as an apparent moral compass and voice of reason, you know something has gone wrong somewhere. The former FIFA president was never one to let pesky things like logic or ethics get in the way of a good time (and by ‘good time’, I of course mean, ‘bad, financially lucrative time’), and yet even he, less than a fortnight before it kicks off, is calling the Qatar World Cup a ‘mistake’.

Of course, Blatter was top dog at FIFA when the tournament was awarded to Qatar back in 2010, but, in an incredible face turn, the 86-year-old has, at least partially, acknowledged his portion of blame in the ‘bad choice’ that has led us to the precipice of debacle. Granted, at this stage the horse has bolted, kicked its farmer in the head, carjacked a tractor, and is now driving the wrong way down a motorway with several police vehicles in pursuit, but hey, at least Sepp has acknowledged it, right?

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Blatter being Blatter, he has naturally afforded himself a little bit of wiggle room on the old accountability front. You see, it was Michel Platini and his UEFA team who swung the ballot in favour of the Qataris, not Sepp. No, no! Sepp wanted the thing to be held in the United States! (’It’s the truth’, he offered in a recent interview, somewhat pleadingly.) To be fair, I’m not saying I doubt him, but his imploration does give off distinct ‘Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos’ vibes.

Now, what exactly it is that has brought on Blatter’s sudden bout of verisimilitude is difficult to say. You would imagine that there is at least a note of self-preservation wafting through the earthy undertones of his ulterior motive. Yet for all of his newfound candour, Sepp can’t help but sprinkle a little extra salt in the wound on his way out. The man puts the ‘damage’ in ‘damage control’.

Blatter has openly admitted that FIFA had to adjust the criteria used to select World Cup host countries in 2012 after concerns were raised about the treatment of migrant workers building stadiums in Qatar. “Since then, social considerations and human rights are taken into account,” he said. But for those already affected by the atrocious thoughtlessness of this winter’s tournament, those shifting deliberations came too late.

Sepp Blatter. Sepp Blatter.
Sepp Blatter. | AFP via Getty Images

From the 6,500 migrant workers who have allegedly died in Qatar since preparations for the World Cup began and the grieving families they leave behind, to the countless LGBTQ fans who face the prospect of watching a tournament in a country where their sexuality is still, in some instances, punishable by death, FIFA’s festival of human rights abuses is threatening to become a spectacle of horror - if it hasn’t already.

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There have been vague, feeble reassurances from authorities that travelling LGBTQ supporters will be welcomed to Qatar this winter, but if we’re being frank, the evidence suggests otherwise. According to Human Right’s Watch, as recently as September, LGBTQ people have been arbitrarily detained and maltreated by Qatari security forces.

Further controversy has been ignited after World Cup ambassador, and former Qatar international, Khalid Salman gave an interview with German broadcaster ZDF in which he labelled homosexuality a ‘damage in the mind’, calling it ‘harmful and unacceptable’ and demanding that outside critics ‘accept our [Qatar’s] rules’ on the matter.

With a concerning earnestness, he said: “[Homosexuality] is haram. You know what haram [forbidden] means? I am not a strict Muslim but why is it haram? Because it is damage in the mind.”

How can any LGBTQ supporter be expected to so much as entertain the notion of this World Cup when the people entrusted with endorsing it speak about their very existence in such pointedly inhospitable terms? Salman’s comments are antiquated and despicable, and yet, by virtue of the fact that the tournament will go ahead regardless in the coming weeks, they have been rendered permissible by FIFA’s deafening passivity.

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Nobody is suggesting that this juggernaut of immorality could be stopped now, even if the relevant authroities wanted to, but maybe somebody with even the faintest inkling of foresight, or half a working brain cell, could have prevented this nightmare in 2010 when they had the chance. Then again, when money talks, it tends to drown out the meek protestations of decency.

When FIFA awarded Qatar the World Cup all those years ago, one of the key pieces of rhetoric used to justify the decision was the insistence that it would help with the development of the game in a part of the world that had, up until then, been largely overlooked. Nonsensical as it seemed, and in spite of the obvious logistical hindrances, that was the line they went with, and come hell or high water, they were sticking to it.

But the problem with FIFA’s flimsy vindication is that football is not just a game that is played on a pitch by 22 meticulously-preened millionaires. It is a game that is witnessed and exalted and cursed by millions around the world at every narrative beat and in every fleeting eternity. It is one of the few genuine global commonalities that we have. By opting to host the World Cup in a nation that discriminates so unapologetically, they have stuck a crooked, boney middle finger up at huge swathes of the very people who make the tournament the joyous celebration it should be; the fans.

Sportswashing - let’s call it what it is - does not compromise. There is no sincere interest in evolution or rehabilitation, only a Croesus-like greed and a sly desire to excuse and obscure the worst of everything with hollow pageantry. If Qatar is an amateur magician, the World Cup is their never-ending handkerchief unfurling and unravelling from a suspiciously bulging shirt-sleeve. And while the rest of us have seen through the ruse and are more concerned about the dead dove lying in a heap on the floor behind them, FIFA are still there, cross-legged at their feet, mouth agape in amazement, utterly and irredeemably rapt.

Original story appeared on appeared on 3 Added Minutes - a new football site that goes beyond the 90 minutes of football reporting.

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