To watch or not to watch? A bit sad though: all the aversion to a World Cup in Qatar, all the fuss about exploited and dead stadium builders, all the revelations about the corruption in the allocation of just about the least suitable candidate, all the dismay also about the homophobic and misogynistic statements by Khalid Salman, the official World Cup ambassador of Qatar – all that has been reduced to a tiny ethical dilemma for at home on the couch with the remote control.
Because the criticism of this World Cup seems to have bounced off a wall of political and economic interests, we therefore flee in an impotent protest. A boycott stood no chance from the start (‘if we don’t go, we’re the only ones!’). With a poker face, the cabinet refused to say that our king would not go. Danny Ghosen ran after silent football players for weeks with questions; everywhere he was mercilessly kept out. None of the critics managed, it seemed, to put a dent in a packet of butter.
But the World Cup in Qatar is now about to start, the football players will play football and the sports journalists have simply traveled en masse. The cabinet sent an unknown minister of sports, but emphatically does not rule out the arrival of the prime minister and king at a later stage.
Was it ever different, you may ask. Protests against major sporting events in questionable places always get the media moving, just for a second. It is debated night after night – and then you hear nothing about it. Meanwhile, while the pastor is speaking, the merchant just goes about his business. All the fuss turns out to be just that, fuss – snacks for columnists.
And yet, and yet. Has something changed this time?
French ex-president with ankle bracelet
The choice of Qatar in 2010 has been so blatantly corrupt, so demonstrably wrong in every way, that even then FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has had to admit it was a gross oversight. In an interview last week to a Swiss newspaper, Blatter said that it was then French president Nicolas Sarkozy who, through Michel Platini (then boss of the European football association UEFA), sold the World Cup to Qatar in exchange for a generous purchase of French fighter jets. You rarely find it so cynical.
Most of the former FIFA executives have since been discredited, charged and convicted of bribery and corruption. And Sarkozy: the first French ex-president with an ankle bracelet.
Qatar was the choice of a corrupt gang.
There is more: just last month, a large majority of the Dutch people surveyed indeed found the choice for Qatar to be a regrettable mistake. The aversion is shared remarkably widely, it is not about the criticism of a small group of activists in the media.
The king simply cannot show up in Qatar
Nowhere did you hear the clincher in recent weeks that you should keep sport and politics separate. That was always the ideal excuse to unabashedly put on your orange wig. In the case of Qatar, you can’t get away with that. The choice for the unsightly Gulf state was purely political, it was all about money, the World Cup was bought. The event itself is surrounded by the smell of corruption and cynicism, the organization itself is responsible for those deaths.
There’s more: Khalid Salman’s unashamedly retarded talk about gays and women shines a stark light on the enlightened language of fraternization through sport, equality for all, One Love, blah blah blah. You can’t sell that in this toxic environment. Panic, FIFA now asks the participating associations not to make protest gestures against the rules.
He is visibly squeezed.
Incidentally, this Salman is screechingly hypocritical, as in so many ‘strictly Islamic’ bling-bling states in Qatar you can fuck whoever you want, as long as you have money. But as a hated minority you can mercilessly use LGBT people as a lightning rod.
Human Rights Watch has reported several incidents targeting gay men and trans people in recent weeks. The credibility of the KNVB was already at stake in the Netherlands after their hastily canceled One Love action, because the captains of two Eredivisie clubs refused to wear the accompanying bracelet. In Qatar, this clash of values is being brought to a head. How can you still use the word inclusiveness if you kept your mouth shut in Qatar?
And then there is the king. During a press conference after the state visit to Greece, he bit off in irritation when he was rubbed into his misstep in Sochi, where he cheerfully toasted on camera with Vladimir Putin at the Holland Heineken House during the 2014 Winter Olympics. “That photo is from a time when nothing was going on between the Netherlands and Russia.” That is of course not true, everyone knows that, there was more than enough going on back then. The king also reportedly personally insisted on encouraging the Dutch athletes in Sochi, regardless of whether he would receive permission from Prime Minister Mark Rutte or not.
That photo has haunted him to this day. Even he must now realize that his presence in Qatar will prove deadly to his so far not-so-glorious kingship. Perhaps Rutte is betting on a blinding Orange fever if the Netherlands ends up in the final. But I think it matters a lot. The king simply cannot show up in Qatar.
The wrong choice for Qatar could therefore be one blessing in disguise can be. Yes, the World Cup will continue, but really no one can ignore this miss. The criticism this time cannot be smoothed out ‘ruttian’ as in Sochi. No one can maintain anymore that sport has nothing to do with politics. The horse-trading of Blatter and Platini and their accomplices turns out so painfully that people will have to watch out in the future – if only for the stage. The football associations cannot continue to preach their equality gospel credibly if they do not really work on it.
Even those who do turn on the television, I think, will be thinking about it. Something has indeed shifted.
vier NRC editors – Hanneke Chin-A-Fo, Folkert Jensma, Martine Kamsma and this week Bas Heijne – take turns discussing what strikes them about their specialization.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of November 19, 2022