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Australia’s Ugly Reaction to Qatar Winning the World Cup

December 3, 2010

Sepp Blatter, who is the mostly detestable president of FIFA, made the comment when announcing the winners of the right to host the World Cup, that football isn’t just about winning, it’s also about learning how to lose. A message, which seemingly, didn’t get through to Australian football punditry, nor a lot of fans, who responded with racial stereotypes, innuendo, allegations and baldly stated that the decision would not be good for football, this was spattered with a good deal of hypocrisy.

Jesse Fink, on the SBS website The World Game stated “If they don’t die travelling by plane in Russia they’ll perish in the heat trying to find a drink in Qatar.”  Simon Hill said on Fox Sports that “there was no good reasons” for the World Cup to be taken to Qatar. On the Website, The Roar Adrian Musolino  wrote that “It was certainly a dark day for the game.” While the Australian stated that in Qatar “Penalties for drug offences include long prison sentences.”  absolutely laughable when we consider the laws in Australia and the United States.
While someone commented on the World Game website that it would be  “A flat packed extravaganza in a cultural and literal dessert, where you can pay through the nose for the pleasure of heat stroke, all set against the backdrop of an archaic and intolerant society structure.”

Jesse Fink’s article, however, expressed a common sentiment that:

“Now some people will buy the legacy argument. Some people will swallow the nice words about bringing peace to the Middle East. Some people will believe these two decisions are about taking football to new frontiers and making history. That’s their prerogative.

But I don’t.

The Russian and Qatari World Cups came about because of influence and money. Because of backroom deals and strategic alliances. Because of the need of some very rich and formidable men to shore up their own power bases and extend their political lives.

Do fans really matter? It would appear not.”

to which, you wonder where Jesse has been for the last 50 years, politics in FIFA has always been about influence,  money, backroom deals and strategic alliances. But it’s churlish to the extreme to only raise this now after the decision goes against Australia. It’s also hypocritical. Hypocritical, because the football pundits couldn’t stop telling us before the decision was made about how great it was to have the holy saint of Australian football, Frank Lowy, heading up the bid, because of his money, influence and his political abilities i.e his ability to make  backroom deals and strategic alliances.  Mohamed bin Hammam has presumably played FIFA politics a lot better than Frank Lowy but Australia’s football pundits accepted the process of the decision, that it is about powerful individuals trying to gain votes through whatever means they can, they are hardly in the place to then question the outcome.

On weaker grounds is the statement ” Do fans really matter? It would appear not.” If we are talking in a world context, than on a fan basis, Australia would have been the poorest choice. Outside of first world nations, hardly any could afford to travel here, Australia has a population of 20 million, the Middle East has 400 million,  of which many of whom will be able to travel to Qatar. Many fans,  in the first world, may refuse to go, for whatever reason but the world doesn’t resolve around them. Fans in the Middle East are just as important as Europeans.

But in reality, it probably wasn’t just about the political skill of Mohamed bin Hammam. Qatar’s pitch was undoubtedly stronger than Australia, which can only be described as pathetic.  Qatar at least attempted to inspire on the football and social side of the bid. Australia didn’t.

Sid Lowe, an excellent football journalist, wrote an interesting article on Qatar’s bid and the role of unveiling Zinedane Zidane as its ambassador after FIFA’s technical team had criticized their bid, which can be accessed here:  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/sid_lowe/09/25/qatar.2022/index.html

“FIFA had spoken; Qatar would not be hosting the 2022 World Cup. The atmosphere was flat. Disappointment took hold.

And then it happened. Qatar unveiled their surprise star witness. A video flashed up on the screen, telling the story of Zinedine Zidane, his rise from the Place Castellane in Marseilles, his humble origins, his Algerian roots, through to his two headers on the greatest stage of all, the World Cup final in 1998 — a World Cup success founded upon immigrants, that did much to unite France. At the end of the video, Zidane’s face appeared on the screen. “It is time,” he said, “to bring the World Cup to the Middle East. Football belongs to everyone. It is time to give it to Qatar.” and that

“But now, suddenly, it appeared that even the technical part of Qatar’s case might be flawed. It had foreseen questions about climate, yet few anticipated FIFA considering the size of the country such a significant disadvantage and when it did, the case appeared lost.

Then Zidane arrived and began to talk. And when he did something shifted in the room. Not because he could resolve the technical doubts — he couldn’t — but because his very presence helped to bridge other gaps. The emotional side of the bid always seemed — from the outside at least — to be Qatar’s weak point. Now, suddenly, it did not. Rejection did not seem so automatic, the questions so cutting, so devastating to its bid.

How much of a footballing history did Qatar have? How much of a footballing culture? Was it really committed to the game? And why should we believe Qatar when it said it was? Did it really know what the World Cup was about? Who exactly was backing its bid? Go to Brazil or England or Spain and names, places, moments, immediately spring to mind — football heritage. They deserve to have the World Cup. Go to Qatar and … what has Qatar ever done for the game? Then there are the social and political question marks.

It is impressionist and flawed, of course, but inside that room it felt like Zidane’s very presence hinted at, or maybe even gave, answers to some of those questions. As he spoke, there were answers; an emotional appeal as to why the Qataris should have the World Cup rather than why they should not.

Zidane, one of the greatest players to have played the game, whose image has become one that seems somehow — despite the infamous head butt in the 2006 final, and other episodes like it — to have become linked to questions of justice and honor, was defending Qatar’s World Cup. Not just as Qatar’s World Cup but as the Middle East’s World Cup, as the Islamic world’s World Cup. What has the Islamic world ever given football? Well, Zidane for a start. If that link was not always explicit, Zidane was here to make sure that from now on it would be.”

Qatar, also promised that “All of the stadiums will harness the power of the suns rays to provide a cool environment for players and fans by converting solar energy into electricity that will then be used to cool both fans and players. When games are not taking place, the solar installations at the stadiums will export energy onto the power grid. During matches, the stadiums will draw energy from the grid. This is the basis for the stadiums’ carbon-neutrality.” and that “The upper tier of 9 of the stadiums will be removed after the tournament. One, Doha Port Stadium, will be completely modular, and will be deconstructed following the FIFA World Cup™. During the event, if we win the right to host, the capacity of most stadiums will be between 40,000 and 50,000 fans, with one much larger stadium for hosting the opening and final matches, amongst others. When the tournament ends, the lower tiers of the stadiums will remain in Qatar . Able to accommodate between 20,000 and 25,000 fans, the smaller stadiums will be suitable for football and other sports.
The upper tiers will be sent to developing nations, which often lack sufficient football infrastructure. We see sending the stadiums to developing nations as an integral part of our bid, as doing so will allow for the further development of football on the global stage.”

Qatar, of course, has major human rights problems, amongst other things but its bid at least aspired to something. Australia’s bid was about the star power we could bring in, a silly cartoon kangaroo and basically about how beautiful Australia is. Not much football and didn’t really touch much on a positive social legacy that would be left behind. It’s really no wonder that after spending $46 million dollars, Australia only got one vote out of 22. Qatar’s pitch, at the very least, would have shored up anyone who were perhaps wavering.

If people are going to take seriously the idea that football can unite people, then really the world cup going to the Middle East should be welcomed and should not be met with crude anti-arabic sentiments or sour grapes about how we were robbed .  Though the excitement of a world cup going to the Middle East should always be tempered by the fact that the world cup, like all major sporting events, is at best a double edge sword and for some people, it is a one edge sword not filled with joy but with misery, as can be seen in the legacy of South Africa’s world cup, as show in this article: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/default.asp?2,40,5,2094

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