Football NewsQatar’s World Cup Concludes with a “collapse” Warning and a FIFA Embarrassment.
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The most contentious World Cup comes to an end and despite Gianni Infantino’s bluster, his corporate footballing Disneyworld has not been entirely convincing.

Forget the thousands of empty seats at knockout games, the muzzling of players aiming to speak out, fans being threatened with reprisals for expressing their identities and the thousands of migrant workers who died in preparing the city of Doha for this tournament, the FIFA president considers the whole thing a “fantastic success” where the sport was “defending human rights”.

But, as Qatar approaches the end of its month as the center of attention – whether that is perceived as a good or bad thing depends on the person you are speaking with – it is time to look ahead.

What comes next for the country, its use of sport as a soft power tool, the migrant population, and the governing body that gave the tournament to the tiny Gulf state in the first place?

When days were filled with four consecutive games, it was easy to forget that the host country was the tournament’s worst team. Qatar attempted to build a competitive national team for a dozen years, primarily through their globally acclaimed Aspire academy.

They learned in a brutally conclusive manner that, regardless of the amount of money spent or previous years’ attempts to naturalize players from abroad, creating a national team capable of competing with the best requires non-financial investment over a longer period of time.

And now that the Maroons’ window of opportunity has closed, it is worth considering the fortunes of another country’s national representative after they hosted their world championship.

In early 2015, Doha hosted the World Handball Championship, which was won by France, with the heavily-funded hosts finishing second.

“The tournament was a huge success,” writes John McManus in his fascinating book Inside Qatar. The Qatari team outperformed their own expectations and advanced to the final. However, by 2020, everything had collapsed. Budget cuts resulted in a talent exodus. The situation became so bad that the Qatar Handball Association considered shortening the league from eight to two months in order to reduce player payments.”

It appears that they could reduce their national team. It is unlikely that he will leave the sport entirely.

This is where Paris Saint-Germain enters the picture. As the World Cup approached, there was plenty of speculation about the state’s investment in their prized club asset. Will they lose interest after the World Cup? Can the incredible spending that has resulted in a front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe be sustained?

A recent report that the club would be open to selling a minor stake in the club fanned the flames, but a withdrawal of interest seems unlikely until they win the Champions League.

Sports other than football will continue to be used for the grand purpose of soft power. A foray into athletics, through hosting the World Championship in 2019, was not far from a disaster, with the Khalifa Stadium nearly empty and athletes from all over complaining about the conditions, not least the marathoners forced to compete at midnight in still brutal temperatures.

However, a bid to host the Olympics appears to be the logical next step. Although the earliest they could host the Games would be in 2036, the facilities will be adequate even if the timing of the year would be a challenge.

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact amount invested by Qatar to host the World Cup, but the most common estimate is around £200 billion, a staggering sum that would enrage the people of almost any other country.

Except that nearly half of the population migrated to Doha so that infrastructure could be built, and a large percentage of Qataris are so wealthy that unprecedented levels of spending will not have an impact on their lives in the way that, say, a spectacularly disastrous budget would.

Concerning the ongoing issues confronting migrant workers, the majority of whom moved to be a part of the infrastructure construction, the World Cup is likely to have brought only incremental improvements. On the most basic level, there is nothing that can prevent a regression once the world’s eyes are trained elsewhere.

A new minimum wage of around £220 per month has been implemented, and the kafala system has been abolished. Human rights organizations continue to claim that workers are forced to live in deplorable conditions in camps, that their passports are confiscated, and that many are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation.

A tournament that was effectively a corporate Disneyworld for football, with only the wealthy able to attend, served its purpose in that it diverted attention away from these issues, but they will not go away, and the focus will remain long after the stadiums have been dismantled and the touring parties have returned home.

There has been no progress in LGBT rights, with the World Cup demonstrating how steadfast the locals are in suppressing not only the identities of gay people, but also any allies.

What about FIFA, the game’s governing body, which has given up on its own framing of being an apolitical body in the last month?

After flexing their muscles to silence the UEFA nations eager to issue a beige statement of solidarity, vague promises of compensation to injured workers or families of the thousands who died have not translated into meaningful action.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FairSquare, and Equidem issued a blistering joint statement earlier this week, calling FIFA a “global embarrassment” for its role in the “exploitation” of migrant workers.

While the men and women who voted for Qatar to host the tournament in 2010 have left in various degrees of disgrace, their replacements appear even more committed to making the Middle East a hub for the game’s flagship competitions.

Infantino has spent much of 2022 in a luxury apartment in Doha, and it will be interesting to see if he decides to pack his belongings and return to Switzerland. However, with grand plans to expand the Club World Cup, and despite clear challenges from the clubs he wants to be a part of the latest circus, the Gulf is being built up as a meeting place for such events. However, the 2023 competition, which is scheduled to take place in February, is still without a host after Abu Dhabi saw Chelsea win the title at the start of 2022.

When ruling families’ tentacles are firmly planted in some of Europe’s biggest clubs, from Qatar at PSG to Abu Dhabi at Manchester City and Saudi Arabia at Newcastle United, it’s easy to see why this part of the world will remain a central stage for big events.

This was far from the best World Cup ever, and only the gullible or those with an agenda would have believed FIFA’s marketing team. However, for those who refuse to accept football’s new geographical reality, the last month has been a watershed moment.