EPL TALK: Qatar 2022 hypocrisy stinks, but we can learn from it

·Contributor
·6 min read
A Spanish protester (left) demanding the rights of migrant workers (right) at the Qatar World Cup. (PHOTOS: Getty Images. Reuters)
A Spanish protester (left) demanding the rights of migrant workers (right) at the Qatar World Cup. (PHOTOS: Getty Images. Reuters)

YOU are a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite. We’re all hypocrites as the grim reality of Qatar 2022 creeps ever closer, like an oil slick upon a sleepy river, forcing us to take a moral stand or be damned for all eternity (or until the next sportswashing exercise comes along.)

As the leaves start to fall around the empty stadiums of the English Premier League, the season of hypocrisy begins in earnest.

Which side are you on? There can only be one side, right? The side that doesn’t force workers to build white elephants in slave-like conditions? The side that doesn’t imprison gay men? That’s our side right?

So, we boycott en masse. Forget the World Cup. Stop all the clocks. Cut off the TV. Prevent the referee from bleating with his whistle. Silence the advertisers and so on.

We do what principled souls did before us, turning their backs on Russia 2018 after the annexation of Crimea, and rejecting the Three Lions at Euro 2004 after British forces invaded Iraq.

Of course, those things didn’t happen. Having covered Euro 2004 in Portugal, I do not recall protestors gathering outside the Estadio da Luz to wave banners at the England bus, lamenting the unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation on the pretext of tracking down weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

The pub talk in Lisbon focused on the form of Wayne Rooney (good) and David Beckham’s penalty in the shootout (bad), perhaps indicative of simpler times, pre-social media, when performative morality was not a way of life.

Now, we are outraged. Permanently. In England, folks have been outraged that LGBTQ+ couples might not be able to hold hands at Qatar 2022. Thankfully, the English Football Association intervened, seeking assurances from organisations that gay hand-holders will not face prosecution. A week ago, folks were outraged that Harry and Meghan held hands at their grandmother’s funeral. It’s hard to keep up with the outrage.

But outraged we must be, a permanent state of furious being, to showcase our indignation for followers, readers, clients and customers.

Like a scene from Life of Brian, where Brian must convince his fellow rebels of his unrivalled loathing for the Romans, we need to out-hate everyone around us. How much do you hate the prospect of a winter World Cup?... Yeah?... But how much do you really hate Qatar 2022?

Have you tweeted your despair as much as the other guy? The other guy is posting about LGBTQ oppression and castigating England’s tokenistic gesture of a rainbow-coloured armband. What kind of mealy-mouthed protest is that, England? Harry Kane should launch a one-man mission into homophobic territory and rescue a gay prisoner. On his back. Just like Rambo.

This is a binary battle for simpletons. The same handwringing battles played out before Russia 2018 (over Crimea, Ukraine, racism and LGBT discrimination, it was a long list) and Brazil 2014 (over government corruption) and South Africa 2010 (over economic inequality).

But the degree of protest, dissent and outrage in the lead up to those tournaments varied, due to the political players involved, along with contemporary geopolitics determining the depth and tone of media coverage.

And then, after the final, the outrage moved on to the next cause célèbre. As always.

A worker walks in front of Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, one of the venues of the Qatar World Cup 2022.
A worker walks in front of Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, one of the venues of the Qatar World Cup 2022. (PHOTO: Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed)

The hypocrisy of expressing outrage and then moving on

Brazil’s endemic corruption did not end with Germany's extra-time winner inside the Maracana, but the global coverage largely did.

The lack of sustained interest in Russia’s political affairs after the 2018 World Cup only emboldened Vladimir Putin to attempt a further redrawing of Mother Russia in his image.

And earlier this year, South Africa was labelled the “most unequal country in the world”, where 10 per cent of the population owns more than 80 per cent of the wealth, according to a World Bank report. But that statistic hasn’t resonated with an international audience like the systemic exploitation of migrant labour in Qatar.

Because South Africa isn’t hosting the World Cup this year. Qatar is. And in the media, if it hosts, it leads.

The real hypocrisy is not the performative morality, as such, but the cyclical nature of it. Let’s open our hearts to the people of (insert World Cup hosting nation here) and champion their (political or social or economic) cause and express our outrage.

And then move on. Wait four years and start again. Rinse and repeat. Just add more social media platforms as the tech evolves to amplify the outrage.

When the unwanted spectacle finally concludes in mid-December, LGBTQ+ couples will presumably stop holding hands in Qatar. Gay men will face imprisonment once more. Migrant workers may still be expected to endure 12-hour shifts for less than $2 an hour. And they’ll still be obligated to pay inflated fees to parasitic agents.

And some may die, building those grotesque, sky-scraping temples to remorseless avarice.

But you know about them. For now. Because the World Cup is coming to Qatar. Because Kane will wear a rainbow armband in England matches. Because dogged journalists will continue to interview brave workers, risking their livelihood to highlight appalling living conditions. Because the planet’s biggest spotlight shines on a host nation’s dirtiest corners, for a month at least, despite the frenzied sweeping of a PR army.

Because in the morass of lies, greed and corruption that is the infernal Fifa show, there will be a glimmer of reality, of truth, of life in Qatar. And if that revelation is brief – and comes via the latest, cyclical display of performative morality – then does it really matter?

We would have seen it. If we choose to look away once the trophy is lifted, then that's on us.

Because the exploited worker putting the finishing touches on a dreary fan zone for $2 an hour doesn’t care about our temporary crisis of conscience, only what happens next.

When Qatar 2022 is over, will anyone still care about him?

The exploited worker putting the finishing touches on a dreary fan zone for $2 an hour doesn’t care about our temporary crisis of conscience, only what happens next. When Qatar 2022 is over, will anyone still care about him?

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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