The grand-old idea that football – the most important, unimportant thing in the world – can bring people of all kinds together into one joyful occasion and set their problems aside, can go one of two ways. It can be this genuine, organic thing, or it can be this delusional, made-up narrative carried out by diabolical elitists and lobbyists for the betterment of their personal interests. If you are skeptical of the latter, then you haven’t heard of our dear friend Gianni Infantino.
“Football can bring us together and make the world a more prosperous, educated, equal and perhaps even peaceful place,” said Infantino, FIFA’s president, last year to the attendance of, er, G20 world leaders, somehow. I mean, it’s noble and heartwarming and all, a tad bit far-fetched, but still I don’t think you can chuck a football to Yemen and magically put an end to their gruesome famine. It’s not even a sensible course of action by any standards.
But in fairness, maybe he’s just trying to “sell” the heartwarming idea of what football can bring to the world. Even former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson did so, and speaking of chucking footballs to places to create peace, he did just that. In 2003, Eriksson has formed a charity called Truce International, basically as an effort – I’m being generous here – towards a football-inspired world peace.
The action item? Giving a ball to the former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, where he can take the ball along his travels to various places and “urge leaders in hotspot after hotspot to kick it as a symbolic act of peace”. Don’t know where that ball is now but it’s definitely not in the Middle East.
To be clear, I don’t disagree with the idea of football being the diplomatic drive in conflict resolution. In fact there are examples where conflicts are halted to watch football as if it’s the overarching purpose of life, more important than any other social or political debate. During the 2018 World Cup, England was not divided by Leave or Remain, but rather united by The Lightning Seeds’ iconic “football’s coming home” phrase. Mohamed Salah was the reinforcing drive against Islamophobia. And who can forget Didier Drogba and his Ivory Coast teammates’ collective effort to stop the ongoing civil war in 2005, to support their national team – seen as national heroes – in their fight to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. There’s no doubt that football has this force within society.
But in these instances, football’s relationship with world peace is one where the sport acts as a distraction, rather than resolution. The elephant in the room is still there, lingering unaddressed. This explains why the civil war in Ivory Coast re-erupted not long after Drogba’s iconic speech, and Islamophobia is now taking centre stage under the international spotlight after the Christchurch shooting. Football is not an overarching purpose of life, but rather than treated as one.
This is why I have as much belief as UK’s parliament in Theresa May, when Infantino uttered his intent to make the 2022 World Cup to be joint-held by Qatar and its immediate, hostile neighbours to accommodate the proposed 48-team tournament format – on top of the ridiculous idea to hold the World Cup in Qatar, DURING WINTER, goodness me – and then selling it to the world with the lines of “football makes miracles”. It does, and it doesn’t, Gianni.
There’s seriously considering utilizing football as this unexplainable positive force that accommodates diplomacy and a platform for conflict resolution, and then there’s being delusional and unaware, even to the length of purposely ignorant, towards any sort of nuance and context, just so you can wrap up a lucrative deal that accommodates vested interests of shady elitists, tyrants and human rights abusers.
This should be the part where I go on about the Saudis and Qataris and their neighbours, but honestly, I really don’t want to. It’s a clusterfuck over there. Saudis and the UAE led an economic blockade against Qatar, also enforced by Bahrain and Egypt, reportedly “after years of fraught relations over the political positions adopted by Qatar during the Arab spring popular uprisings, and objections to coverage by the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera”. Saudis even went to the lengths of announcing plans to “build a trench along the shared border filled with sewerage, effectively turning Qatar into an island cut off from the rest of the world by a river of radioactive human excrement”. To add to that, Saudis and the UAE are also responsible for mercilessly bombing Yemen and pushing Yemenis to their worst famine in their history.
And then there’s the Khashoggi murder case, which brought even more international attention towards the hostility in the region. Qatar, along with, like, the most of international society, point their fingers to the Saudis and say “look at how repressive they are!”, while clearly ignoring the fact that there are tons of human rights abuses in Qatar’s own backyard – with the worrying amount of workers deaths further signifying the shady World Cup project.
There’s also Bahrain and its diabolical attempt to hold an innocent footballer as a political prisoner. I mean, they effectively accused a footballer for being a part of an anti-government protest while he was playing a semi-pro football match in Australia, and then broke the rules (I think) by issuing a red notice to the Interpol to arrest the footballer when he went to Thailand for a vacation. Jesus wept, if that’s not a barometer for how repressive a government is, then I don’t know what is.
Oh and who can forget Infantino’s ultra-shady affair with the Saudis who run the “Manchester City” show, which is a show where Saudis get to inject a shitload amount of money without breaking any rules because yours truly Infantino bent the rules just for them.
To make myself clear, I stand corrected if I made any errors in my explanation of the regions’ clusterfuck, but trust me it’s a clusterfuck nonetheless.
But don’t worrry, Gianni and his boys from FIFA – and don’t forget Sven’s ball of peace – will come over like knights in shining armour to bless the region and put all the hostilities to bed, through kicking balls and cheering for the people who are kicking said balls. Except they really won’t.
Infantino still has a chance to realize his dream of a 48-team World Cup, but there won’t be any peace whatsoever. He’ll boast about “revolutionizing the world’s biggest sporting tournament” for whatever reason other than football while racking up bare euros or dinars or whatever they’re paying him with.
It’s sickening to see this sport and its beautiful spirit and values utilized to accommodate the interests of those who care so little about them. To execute this ghastly Qatar project and then selling it as a means for peace is a mockery to what football can really be; a genuine unifying force. What makes me even more mad is that, I know everyone is still going to watch the World Cup regardless. People will still cheer their teams, and players will still play their hearts out. That’s because of how much this game means to them. But the somber reality is, it is becoming highly apparent that the sport is abandoning its values.
FIFA’s slogan is “For the game. For the world.” In the words of Sporting Intel’s Nick Harris, it should’ve just read “For the money.”