Monday 25 September 2017

Blatter draws line in sand over weather-based discrimination

Dion Fanning

When the subject of the World Cup in Qatar being moved to winter is brought up, I find that my reaction is broadly equivalent to Alan Partridge's when the estate agent tells him there is a school for the deaf close to his "five-bedroom bastard house". Partridge wonders, "Does that mean there will be noise or there won't be noise?"

With a winter World Cup, I'd like to know if there will be more football or there won't be more football before moving on to the important ethical considerations. Last week, FIFA's general secretary Jerome Valcke presented the decision as a choice between winter and summer, not a choice between Qatar and a country that might be expected to host the tournament on the terms that it was awarded. Chillingly, he stated there would be no games between December 24 and January 1.

As well as all its other ethical dilemmas, a World Cup in Qatar would introduce a winter break to the Premier League by stealth. Of course, it would be an extended winter break in 2022 but it is too bleak to contemplate that, even in the future when our leisure possibilities will be endless, Christmas would not also include football.

This is not a consideration for Sepp Blatter who was clearly aware that he was speaking close to the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech, and chose this moment to soar rhetorically when asked about Qatar's ability to host.

"I believe that the World Cup should be awarded to a nation that really, really wants to host it," he said, painting a picture of the oil-rich nation's long struggle against injustice. "A nation that has the financial means to do it without neglecting other societal obligations, and a nation where the national football federation can determine when it is the best time to play the game. Frankly, if we automatically exclude potential hosts because of the weather then the next step can easily be exclusion for other arbitrary and discriminatory reasons. I am not going to be party to any such thing."

He drew a line in the Qatar sand, stating that FIFA's deep commitment to ridding the world of all forms of discrimination included taking a tough stand against any form of weather discrimination. It was a stance in no way made laughable by Qatar's own position on, for example, homosexuality.

Sepp sees a world in which nobody should be forced to do anything they don't want to on account of the weather.

He had also previously foreseen a world in which gay fans planning to attend the World Cup were asked to "refrain from any sexual activities" while in Qatar as homosexuality is illegal. Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, offered limited reassurance. "Everyone is welcome . . . no fear of arrest as long as part of the culture is appreciated."

Weather-based discrimination appears to be a more pressing concern for Sepp at the moment and he will undoubtedly be remembered by the people of Qatar – or at least those who don't make up the migrant labourers who make up a majority in the country. The Federation for Human Rights says the conditions for workers in Qatar amount to "forced labour". The Nepali Embassy has said that 354 Nepalese workers died from working conditions in 2010 and 2011.

But while there is weather-based discrimination going on FIFA will not rest, determined that no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation on the basis of its weather. FIFA can't have been taken by surprise at the news that it is hot in Qatar in June and July. The technical report which was received before the venue was decided described their bid as "high-risk" because of the heat.

Happily, FIFA aren't alone in this campaign. Qatar has many World Cup ambassadors, men deeply committed to ensuring that no country will ever be forced out of hosting a World Cup because the establishment has excluded them thanks to the weather.

So they will fight on, determined to move the tournament, perhaps feeling that the chances of one of the losing countries suing isn't as great as the chance of Qatar taking legal action if the tournament was taken from them. Especially if it was weather discrimination.

England will go into that tournament as favourites, certainly as Greg Dyke's favourites, the culmination of his in-depth investigation into the problems of English football and why foreign players keep taking their jobs.

In this climate of suspicion and wariness, Roy Hodgson might have good reason to feel aggrieved that he went to a notorious foreign place – Ukraine – came away with a scoreless draw and had to put up with people wanting something approaching decent football.

The growing surprise in England that Roy Hodgson manages this England side as Roy Hodgson has always managed England sides must be aggravating Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson has always been proud of his record and now he has to defend himself to Gary Lineker, whose obsession with international football may be his greatest failing as a sports broadcaster, greater even than the cosy banter and the puns. Lineker spends too much time thinking about England. Last week he surprised Hodgson with his criticisms when he said England were "awful" on Twitter before deleting the tweet, perhaps fearing that he had been too interesting.

They can't be surprised when Hodgson sends out teams to play as his teams have always done.

Hodgson was baffled and he had a point. Roy Hodgson went into management to win 0-0 in Ukraine. These results are his greatest accomplishments, his finest moments, the nights of which he is most proud.

He is entitled to wonder why they criticise him in this way. They didn't take a chance on some young manager with potential, they knew who they were appointing, even if some of them apparently didn't.

England appointed Roy Hodgson manager not Rinus Michels and they can only blame themselves when Roy Hodgson reveals himself to be Roy Hodgson.

dfanning@independent.ie

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