I was a little baffled to learn this week of FIFA’s decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. I think it might be the most ridiculous decision FIFA has made since its decision to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But actually, I think it might even be worse.
OK, so Russia is ranked 148 out of 169 countries according to the United Nations Development Programme’s Empowerment and Governance index, and envisaging the opening ceremony conjures up images of tanks rolling past the Kremlin on a grey and rainy day, with hordes of the gruel-fuelled proletariat a little over-enthusiastically cheering at the unfurling of a 50m-high photo of Vladimir Putin shaking hands with Stalin, whilst nervously glancing over their shoulders at a posse of trench-coated neo-KGB types lurking in the background, menacingly encouraging appropriate displays of “exuberance and patriotism”…
…But at least it’s a country with a footballing history (world class linesmen, for example). Qatar has about as much footballing history as a small island in French Polynesia, that was completely isolated from the rest of the world until a Mitre Size 5 floated over there last week, and the chief of the island’s tribe cut it in half, and used one hemisphere for a large bowl, and the other for a hat.
And if Russia ranks pretty low on most human rights indices, The Economist’s Democracy Index puts Qatar in 144th place out of 167 countries – 8 places below Google-banning China, and 1 place ahead of Iran. And then there’s gender relations. Personally, I don’t think it’s right that women should only show their eyes and not their face in public, or that they should have to walk 5 paces behind their husbands (I think it should be at least 8). Qatar is ranked 142 out of 143 countries on “Gender” by the UNDP. But then again, women never liked football anyway…
I lived in Qatar for 8 months, and I was also pretty appalled by the Qatari people’s attitudes towards the immigrant population of Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Filipinos who basically ran the country. I sensed a severely racist attitude on the part of local Qataris – not a great quality in a World Cup host. Another thing I notices whilst living there was that the people are really unfriendly, going on down-right rude. Everywhere I have travelled in the world, I have without a single exception found the local people to be very friendly and welcoming (it’s probably because my point of comparison was England). Except for the single exception of Qatar, where I found the opposite to be true. This is verging on vitriolic, but if I could use four words to describe the Qatari people I met, it would be “lazy, conceited and rude”. (Although I should point out that the aforementioned immigrant populations were fun, friendly and fantastic folk). If I could use 13 words, they would be “what the hell were we thinking letting these guys host the World Cup?!”.
But perhaps this is just my own personal impression. What is less subjective however, is the fact that Qatar is a very hot country. The average temperature in Qatar in July is 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). If my mental image of the final in Moscow in 2018, is of an old-school orange ball being kicked around a snow-laden pitch in Siberia, my mental image of the final in Doha in 2022, is of the English team collapsing about the centre circle from heat exhaustion, and Wayne Rooney having to wear a baseball cap for the whole tournament to mitigate against sunburn. OK, so that's not strictly true. Even I am no longer naive enough to hope that England will make it to the final.
And another point on the objective front – Qatar is a really small country. Its landmass is slightly smaller than that of Connecticut, which is itself the third smallest American state. By 2022, there will have been 17 World Cup hosts. Their average landmass is 229 times bigger than that of Qatar, and most of that is desert. The population of Qatar is about as large as that of Phoenix, Arizona. The second largest city, Al-Wakrah, has 30,000 inhabitants. Given the crass and obscene affluence of the country, they will probably just build some more cities to host some of the games, but at the moment at least, one of the semi-finals is going to be held at the Al-Sharma oasis.
So, no footballing tradition, a pretty average human rights record, an unwelcoming and unfriendly people, a scorchingly hot climate, and an absence of cities – could there be a worse choice for a World Cup host? I can’t think of one. At least North Korea have a footballing history, and I hear the climate is fairly mild in Pyongyang in the summer.
I can only surmise that Qatar paid someone at FIFA a lot of money to host the World Cup in 2022. (With the third biggest natural gas reserves of any country in the world, they have certainly got the cash). And I think that’s a bad and sad way to determine the host of one of the most exciting and anticipated events on the planet.
They say football is the beautiful game. This was an ugly decision.