Soccer Under The Sun
The World Cup will start in Qatar, pronounced (Cutter), not (Qattaaar ) Sunday, the first time the event has been held in the Middle East, and in winter. Every four years, the world comes together to watch “the beautiful game.” Teams come from around the world to represent their cultural identities and display their styles: the obnoxious and eccentric style of France, the flamboyant Brazilian samba football — which everyone admires — the precise Spanish Tiki Taka, the straightforward kick-and-run English style, or the creativity and strength of the Nigerians. Franklin Foer’s 2004 book, “How Soccer Explains the World,” describes the logic of Nigerian footballers on the pitch: “They had ingenuity that could make a bland Eastern Bloc team look downright continental.”
Teams from former colonies can compete against former imperialist teams on a fair and level field. Shops, churches and mosques close; people use all their sick days to stay home from work and watch the games. In Egypt, coffee shops stay open all day and all night for the game. Daily prayers are postponed until after the game. The World Cup transcends culture, religion, politics, race, nationality, time and space. Qatar is a country with no soccer history so small that fans worry a missed free kick from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo may crosse over to neighboring Bahrain, still, it will welcome 3 million visitors for a month. An estimated 8 billion worldwide will watch the games. In the Arab world now, everyone wants to be another Singapore. Instead of building democratic institutions and civil societies, they built shopping malls, seven-star hotels, skyscrapers and fancy stadiums. The World Cup is now becoming a colossal global business — sports and politics are merging into a massive spectacle. Vladimir Putin of Russia spent more than $14 billion on hosting World Cup 2018 to boost his image. The U.S. World Cup 1994 was a commercial bonanza for Nike, Pepsi, Coke, Budweiser and the Energizer Bunny. Billions were spent on invading our minds. Brazil spent more than $15 billion to tout its erstwhile economic miracle. The World Cup is becoming an image makeover. Since Qatar was granted the World Cup 10 years ago, many questions have been raised concerning migrant workers’ and women’s rights. Media headlines have told of human rights abuses and oppressive working conditions. In his first assignment out of the studio, one ESPN reporter asked a migrant worker in Qatar, “Do you have freedom here?” “Nobody has freedom here,” the worker mused with a smile of resignation. “Everybody is welcome regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.” When asked about reforms for LGBTQ Qataris, Fatma Al-Nuaimi, communications director for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said, “respect the culture and the tradition of the country.” Asked whether players and fans could raise the rainbow flag, whether “gays can display the rainbow flag and hold hands in public,” she explained. Incidentally, this wouldn’t be an issue in Qatar. Intimacy and public affection are welcome; Arab men are socially gay, hold hands, hug and even kiss. Qatari officials complained about the West’s double standard, the focus on cultural wedge issues. Qatar didnt invent capitalism and worker exploitation. When America hosted the World Cup, nobody asked to stop the assault on unions and put an end to racial injustice, or for the U.S. to close Guantanamo or ask to end capital punishment and end homelessness. do away with abortion or establish national health care for everyone. Nobody asked the French to embrace more religious expression in public or return trillions of dollars extorted from Africa. When the British held the World cup in 1966, Qatar was occupied by the British; Homosexuality was illegal. No one demanded that the British return stolen treasures from the Middle East or leave the Falkland Islands. The FIFA organization has become a global political tool and soft power weapon to impose Western views and cultural dominance. Qatar officials are asking people to come and watch the beautiful game and enjoy the nation’s diverse culture and Arab hospitality. But having a World Cup in an Arab country for the first time angers many people. Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani slam the hypocrisy of people calling for a World Cup boycott. “I think there are some people who don’t accept that a small country in the Middle East is hosting such a global event,” he said. Qatar’s World Cup won’t be exactly the first Halal World Cup. However, beer drinking won’t be allowed in public. It will be confined to large drinking (intoxication) centers open 19 hours a day. Sex among unmarried couples is banned in Qatar, and you could get seven years in jail for a violation. Sex industry services usually do brisk business at these global events, but business will be bad in Qatar. Still, let me reassure you that some traveling prostitutes will be wearing hijabs and carrying fake marriage certificates. Political messages and banners, according to FIFA, are banned during the games. FIFA will punish players and teams for raising Palestinian flags. Support of Ukraine and anti-Russian messages, however, will be encouraged. FIFA kicked Russia out of the competition altogether but allowed the apartheid state of Israel to compete. You may see a few anti-el-Sissi banners during the Qatar World Cup since Qatar is a hub for many Egyptian political activists who escaped after the military coup. Egyptian fan clubs played a significant role in the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Soccer stadiums are one of the few public places dictators have not controlled yet. One last thing: FIFA is now introducing Video Assistant Referees (VAR) to the game, killing the flow and spontaneity of play. Fans and players no longer celebrate goals; they wait for the dreadful VAR review when three officials sit in a small booth studying images fed from more than 30 cameras. The great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote: “Goals are the orgasm of the soccer game.” And you can’t review orgasms — even in Qatar.
Ahmed Tharwat, host and producer of the Arab American TV show BelAhdan, is working on a film documentary, “The Coptic Grave.” He lives in Minnetonka.
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