The upcoming World Cup, beginning in Qatar later this month, is easily one of the most controversial in the tournament’s 92-year history. And it hasn’t even kicked off yet.
The awarding of the prestigious tournament to the tiny gulf state, one with no history or pedigree in world football, reeked of corruption. The country’s use of migrant workers to build the World Cup’s infrastructure—who have died in their thousands—is shameful. Qatar has been unable to guarantee the safety of LGBTQ fans travelling to the country (it’s illegal for men to be gay in Qatar), and the government has already warned travellers—sports fans—about trying to bring alcohol across the border. Plans to force visitors to install an app on their phones—ostensibly for Covid-19 reasons, but which would also be able to track their movements and phone use at all times—were only dropped last week after widespread international opposition.
While anticipation for the tournament itself is as high as always—you could hold it on the Moon and fans of the 32 nations taking part would still be glued to their seats—excitement for the World Cup as an event, one which fans travel the world over to attend and celebrate on the ground, is not even in the same ballpark as we’ve seen for other World Cups in Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the USA, South Africa or Brazil.
Earlier this year a speech by Norway’s football boss at the annual FIFA Congress said the decision to award the competition to Qatar was “unacceptable”, while the global player’s union FIFPRO have also published a letter criticising Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers.
In France, the biggest supporter group of the national team say “their travelling party would only be one-sixth of their size in Russia”. Where 5000 Dutch fans travelled to Russia in 2018—itself a massively controversial tournament!—only 3000 are going to Qatar. While the cost of living crisis in Europe and lingering Covid concerns are also contributors to this, Qatar’s human rights record, visitor restrictions and security concerns have also been cited by fans as reasons they’ll be staying at home.
The Danish team are going to wear kits designed explicitly in protest against the Qatari government (and the maker of those kits, Hummel, will be boycotting the tournament entirely), while Australia—citing reports from Amnesty, among others—have also posted a video critical of the migrant worker situation.
All of which might explain why the Qatari government has started paying for some fan’s tickets and flights in return for positive coverage of the event. Though you have to wonder why they’d bother, when international video game publishers can do so much of the sportswashing work for them.
EA Sports is about to release an official World Cup mode for its flagship sports series FIFA 23, and while the download itself looks fantastic—you can play the whole tournament, recreate games based on their matchday squads and recreate history by slotting in teams that didn’t actually qualify—there’s a big segment in the middle that is (unsurprisingly) off.
It’s all about the “matchday experience”, a segment I’ve setup to autoplay below. Keep everything I’ve just said in mind as you watch these digital fans joyfully mingling and partying in the streets:
Ah, what a great time everyone (well, not quite!) is having in these wonderful new stadiums (built by thousands of dead slave workers!) at such a prestigious tournament (awarded in some of the most corrupt circumstances in sporting history!). None of this is surprising, of course, but it’s still worth pointing out. Will some fans still travel to Qatar and have fun? Of course! Is it expected that a AAA video game publisher reliant on an official license would toe the line like this? Absolutely! Does it still suck? Sure does!