As if the World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off tomorrow, did not have enough controversy to contend with, the stadium booze ban will only add to fans’ frustration with Fifa over its bizarre choice of venue.
A dry World Cup would have been a very hard sell before the country was selected, back in 2010. Announcing it just 48 hours before the start won’t make it any easier to swallow.
Such considerations are surely trivial in the context of far greater concerns about the choice of Qatar as host. Homosexuality is still illegal there, and LGBTQ+ people have been arbitrarily arrested or mistreated, according to Human Rights Watch.
The country’s human rights record has led many expected attendees and celebrities to boycott what was billed as a month-long football mardi gras-style occasion.
This latest “buzz kill” makes Fifa look ever more foolish over its judgment.
Only last week, Fifa president Gianni Infantino insisted, quite disingenuously, that “everyone is welcome [at the World Cup] regardless of origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality”.
In the same letter, he also pleaded with football associations and their players to put aside discussion of political and human rights issues surrounding the tournament and “let the football take the stage”.
Rights and respect are fundamental to everything we do in life, and neither Fifa nor Qatar gets a free pass. According to reports, Qatar’s ruling monarchy sunk all its political capital into the staging of the Middle East’s and the Arab world’s first World Cup. The state has shelled out $220bn (€213bn) on construction. Yet fans are likely to be left feeling short-changed.
The 32 teams who qualified for the tournament, and their legions of followers, deserve better. But the World Cup is famous for its many bizarre moments.
In 2010 in South Africa, a man jumped into a river full of crocodiles as a dare to get free tickets. In another tournament, a Uruguayan player returned to the field just after suffering a heart attack, while a Russian couple broke up after arguing over who was the better player, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
These incidents are recorded in Argentinian author Luciano Wernicke’s new book, Incredible World Cup Stories. Perhaps the most bizarre story of all has yet to be written at World Cup 2022, as the first planeloads of fans arrive to discover their oasis of choice is arid.
It is a funny old game, as commentators are fond of reminding us. It is also often a game of “two halves” – but not in Qatar. It will not even be a game of one half – inside the grounds – unless it is a non-alcoholic one.