Shortcuts / 17 November 2022

The Qatar FIFA World Cup

Next week, billions of eyeballs will be on Qatar for the start of the soccer World Cup. This has been one of the most controversial tournaments in the game’s history – and that’s before a ball is even kicked. So in this week’s Squiz Shortcut we take a look at why Qatar is hosting the tournament, how the world’s reacted to the decision and a form guide on who might take home the glory.

So the FIFA World Cup is a big deal, right?
Yep, it’s called the world game for a reason. And there’s no doubt the football World Cup – or soccer, as we call it here in Oz – is about as big as it gets when it comes to sporting contests.

How big?
Well, if you’re a Ted Lasso fan – no one sums it up better than Dani Rojas when he said “football is life” – and for so many countries and literally billions of fans around the world that’s true. It’s now a sport that kids play all over the world.

What’s the kerfuffle over this year’s tournament about?
First off, the decision by FIFA – the world football federation – to award Qatar the hosting gig was an odd one from the get-go. It’s a tiny nation about the same size as Hawaii and is home to about 2.5 million people. A lot of Aussies would be familiar with the capital Doha as a Middle Eastern stopover on the way to Europe.

If it’s so small, how is it going to host a massive soccer tournament?
So part of what has made this so weird is that Qatar only has one major city, and when it won the bid back in 2010 it had one major football stadium…

How did it win, then?
At the time it was accused of handing over more than $3 million in bribes to the 22 football officials who made the decision, although it was formally cleared of that charge. But the countries it was competing against for hosting rights – including Australia, the US and Japan – were furious and believed the decision was rigged.

Isn’t it well-known that FIFA has been a bit iffy?
It doesn’t have the best reputation… A bunch of its officials have had bribery or corruption charges brought against them in the past. But it’s promised its clean up its act.

So back to Qatar – why is it so controversial?
Let’s start with its human rights record. It’s an Islamic nation, and Sharia law is the basis of how it’s governed, so it bans same-sex relationships. You could be thrown in jail if you are found out and stoning as a punishment is still on the books.

Yep, and that’s not all. Another big human rights concern is the exploitation of the foreign workers brought in to help build all the facilities – including 7 giant stadiums – just to make this World Cup happen.

How many workers are we talking about?
Like tens of thousands… They’ve come from countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Amnesty International says those workers have been paid a pittance and many have been working 14-hour days in up to 50C heat.

That’s awful…
Yep. The Guardian compiled figures from all the embassies of those countries in Qatar and calculated 6,500 migrant workers had died over the past 10 years working on these big projects from things like accidents, heart attacks or strokes often caused by that extreme heat. But the Qatari government disputes that figure.

That’s still a terrible toll… How are players and fans going to cope with the heat?
It posed such a major issue that they had to move the date of this year’s World Cup – which is usually held in June or July – to November just to escape it. Temperatures will be in the 25-30C zone now instead of the more extreme temperatures of the summertime.

So the heat’s been one problem – what about LGBTQI+ football fans?
It’s a question many players and fans are asking. The Socceroos were one of the first groups to speak out about this – they’ve called for Qatar to decriminalise same-sex relationships and uphold what they called the “universal values” that football stands for.

That’s a strong statement…
Yeah, it got a lot of publicity around the world. And Aussie Josh Cavallo – who isn’t in the World Cup squad but is the world’s only openly gay top-tier professional footballer – has said he would be afraid to travel to Qatar because of his sexuality.

So how can LGBTQI+ fans feel safe?
They don’t is the short answer. Joe White is the head of England’s biggest LGBTQI+ football supporters’ group, and he’s said he hasn’t been reassured talking directly to FIFA or Qatari officials that some won’t end up in prison.

Why is that?
Well, it didn’t ease concerns when one of the tournament’s ambassadors and former Qatari footballer Khalid Salman told a German broadcaster that he thought homosexuality is “damage in the mind”. The interview got cut off mid-way by an official – but the message was clear. He said that people who come to Qatar “will have to accept our rules”.

That must be tough to hear for fans who want to go…
Unless you’re a mad football fan yourself, it’s hard to describe what a big deal this is for some LGBTQI+ supporters. They desperately want to follow their country and missing a World Cup would be a blow, but the risk feels just too high for many.

How have other countries been reacting?
So the US team has put up a big rainbow-themed logo at their training facility in Qatar. And quite a few teams including Germany and Denmark have warmed up in the last 6 months wearing t-shirts urging Qatar to address its human rights record.

Despite all that, the tournament is going ahead… Who’s gonna win?
One Squizer gave us the inside word on what to expect at this tournament. He’s backing Argentina – although the bookies actually have Brazil at the shortest odds of taking home the Cup.

Why Argentina?
Two reasons: first, they beat Brazil at a really big South American lead-up tournament, and second, they have arguably the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi.

But one man can’t win a game…
Apparently, Messi is apparently the exception to that rule… When experts are asked who’s the GOAT, he’s routinely put above Pelé, Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Gotcha. And Australia’s chances?
Well, the Socceroos made it into the tournament the hard way – qualifying in extra time against Peru. That was thanks to the dance moves of backup goalie Andrew Redmayne – aka the Grey Wiggle – that put off his opponent and saw him save a crucial penalty shot.

Who could forget… So can we pull off another miracle?
It’s fair to say the bookies don’t expect Australia to go far in this tournament… The odds of us winning are about 400-1 – so it’s not looking great.

So our team’s not super strong?
Not by historical standards. Back in 2006, Australia’s World Cup team had a bunch of players who were also playing in the English Premier League, the strongest domestic competition in the world. In our 2022 lineup, we don’t have a single player in that league.

When’s our first match?
That would be against France next Wednesday. And it’s a tough one given that side is also one of the tournament favourites.

So we’re doomed, then…
Well, if you want to look on the upside, the French aren’t coming in off the best run of form, so it’s probably better we get them first up because it’s likely they’ll only get better as the tournament continues.

Ok. Who else are we playing?
We’ve got Tunisia and Denmark in our other pool matches. We have to win at least one game and draw one in our pool to have any chance of getting through to the next round.

Sounds like we might need another team to cheer for…
Perhaps, and in that case, our Squizer friend suggests Senegal. They’ve got a good handful of players in the top European leagues, so they have a good shot. And an African nation has never won the World Cup so if they could pull it off it would be a big deal for the entire continent.

Go the Aussies! And go Senegal!
That’s the spirit. And just to let you know the deets, SBS is broadcasting all the World Cup matches for free. It all kicks off Monday morning our time on 21 November.

Squiz recommends:

Grey Wiggle video

Ted Lasso clip

Lionel Messi highlights

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