With the upcoming World Cup just under 6 weeks away you would imagine that fans were excited, and looking forward to an international festival of football, celebrating diversity, competition, and at the end of the day, the game we all know and love.
Supposed to be a joyous and exciting occasion, I for one get the wall charts out, involve myself in plenty of sweepstakes and would know every group inside out by now. That is not the case for this World Cup. I have never felt so apathetic and uninterested in football’s showpiece event.
A cynic might say that is because my beloved Scotland are not involved. After falling short in the playoffs against Ukraine despite a positive qualifying campaign, it was a bitter way to miss out on a second successive major tournament for the tartan army. However, this is something that we have all become far too accustomed to - as an 18-year old I have never seen Scotland play in a World Cup, and that has never quelled my enthusiasm. The Brazil World Cup in 2014 is one of my fondest footballing memories, it felt like a true festival of football - everything that a World Cup should be.
[Germany triumphed in the 2014 World Cup Final]
In 2022, just 8 years on, it feels as though football is losing its soul, and that tournament feels further and further away the closer we come to Qatar.
I do not know if it is the time of year, with a winter tournament largely feeling like an unnecessary disruption to the season - causing headaches and fixture backlogs - and frankly being out of place. This also does not feel true to the World Cup which is, and in my opinion, always should be a summer tournament.
This is without even mentioning the host nation itself. I would like to preface this by saying that I would never criticise a nation based on its culture. Unless of course, they are hosting a worldwide sporting event with every continent and corner of the footballing world represented. That is probably one circumstance where it is acceptable.
In Qatar homosexuality is illegal. The state does not recognise LGBTQ+ relationships, couples cannot adopt and if caught, punishment ranges from fines to 7 years imprisonment, whilst Muslims can be executed for having sex with somebody of the same gender. It is also illegal to consume alcohol/be considered drunk, in public. Swearing and “rude gestures” are considered “obscene”, and offenders can be jailed/deported. Any intimacy in public, especially between teenagers, is considered illegal and can lead to arrest.
These are just a few of the laws and regulations commonplace in Qatar, a country deemed as “not free” by US government-funded website “Freedom House”. Does this sound suitable for hosting a World Cup?
Even without mentioning the lack of human rights, Qatar is not a footballing nation. There is no football culture. The Qatari Football Association was not even founded until 1960, joining FIFA a decade later in 1970 - 40 years after the first World Cup was held. The nation’s lowest-ever world ranking came just a month before they were awarded the hosting of the 2022 World Cup, with Qatar sitting 113th in the FIFA World Rankings in November 2010.
It is not just a lack of international pedigree, as after all, they have improved a lot in recent years, but in fact, my main complaint is the lack of infrastructure. Qatar is not a ‘footballing country’ and did not have near enough stadiums to host a World Cup. 7 of the 8 stadiums being used for the tournament have been built from scratch specifically for hosting the World Cup.
These stadiums have largely been built off of the back of migrant workers, who have been subjected to inhumane working conditions. In February 2021 The Guardian said that more than 6500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since they were awarded the World Cup, this is likely to be even more by now. These “state-of-the-art” sporting arenas have been built on the back of borderline slavery. Thousands have lost their lives to get Qatar ready for this World Cup.
Not to mention the manner in which they were awarded the hosting of the World Cup, with bribery and politics being the main factors - rather than sporting integrity or fairness.
This all leaves a bad taste in the mouth of fans around the world, and I know that I speak for a vast amount of Scottish football fans in particular, who are struggling to get in the mood for the upcoming World Cup. It just feels wrong and immoral.
Some National teams are attempting to raise awareness and show their distaste for the tournament, Denmark and Hummel recently made the headlines after revealing their World Cup kit to monochrome as they "do not wish to be visible" at the tournament, whilst Sky Sports confirmed recently that Harry Kane will sport an armband supporting the LGBTQ+ community. However, none of this is really enough - all teams who qualified are still going to compete, and Qatar have managed to recruit high-profile ambassadors - such as David Beckham - for the tournament, repairing any damage to their reputation.
With everything taken into account it simply feels like this World Cup was just not meant to be for Scotland, as hard as that defeat to Ukraine was to take, I honestly do not feel like we are really missing out all too much. If there was one tournament I could choose to skip, it would be this one.
[Scotland were defeated in the playoffs by Ukraine]
All eyes, therefore, have to be set on qualification for the next major tournament - the 2024 European Championships in Germany, a tournament being held in a true footballing nation, with an infrastructure which can more than support an international footballing spectacle.
Germany and Qatar could not feel further apart. One has a football heritage, a human rights-respecting and open culture, as well as the infrastructure to host a World Cup without drastic action - the other does not.
Great news - Scotland can still qualify for this one, and through their participation in the UEFA Nations League, have already secured a play-off place for that tournament at the very least. This safety net could prove vital, after Scotland were drawn into a “group of death”, alongside Spain, Norway, Georgia and Cyprus - making up a formidable Group A. These games will take place in 2023.
[Hopefully, we will see more scenes like these en route to Euro 2024]
The good news for Scotland is that both the group winners and runners-up will both automatically qualify for the finals, and after being drawn as second seeds, despite the tough group, Steve Clarke’s men are still in a positive position. Finishing second in the group would see us qualify for their 2nd European Championships in a row.
A Big 12 months await Scotland on the international stage, with a great opportunity to kick on and reach Germany 2024 - a tournament much more worthy of our excitement and attention, than the farce that is the World Cup in Qatar.