The great temptation of the World Cup just started in Qatar is that it becomes a kind of planetary entertainment.
For one month, we might try to forget inflation, the war in Ukraine, the egotistic shows of Donald Trump, the daily news conferences of López Obrador and even climate change, with a slightly lower sense of guilt. The excuse is on television or the cell phone: I’ll be watching a World Cup match so …
The problem is that there are things that must never be forgotten.
Too late, much too late, FIFA President Sepp Blater said in an interview that it was a “mistake” granting the tournament to Qatar. “It is a very small country, and soccer and the World Cup are too big for them.” The comments by Blater, who has been investigated for corruption, were totally useless became they came 12 years after FIFA assigned the Cup to Qatar and just a few days before the start of the soccer festival.
But there’s more than Qatar being a small territory – it has not lost a single inch since 2010, Mr. Blater – and its lack of soccer tradition. Amnesty International just published a list of six things about the World Cup host that should worry us: 1. No freedom of expression or the press. 2. A ban on labor unions. 3. Unfair trials. 4. Constant discrimination against women, who require permission from their “guardians” to study, work, travel and even to marry, which makes it difficult for girls to play soccer. 5. Laws that criminalize the LGBT+ community. 6. The deaths of many foreign workers leading up to the Cup, and the absence of labor rights.
There have been so many criticisms of human rights violations in Qatar that even artists who are not participating in the opening ceremony spoke out. “I expect to visit Qatar when it has met its promises to respect human rights,” singer Dua Lipa declared on social networks.
The hopes on Qatar and other countries in that region is that the international pressures and the contact with thousands of fans from around the world will motivate them to change their laws and conduct. And carry out their promises of increased tolerance. But, like it happened with Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba in 2014, it’s very difficult to change an authoritarian regime from the outside.
And despite everything, the soccer ball rolls …
I have heard it said many times that soccer is the most important of the least important things in life. And despite the major failures in awarding the tournament to and lack of respect for human rights in the host country, soccer rules. There comes a time when your national selection or your favorite team plays, when we block out whatever upsets or distracts us. Sometimes rightly so, sometimes not. Soccer is avoidance, and that’s why it’s so addictive.
For those of us who live outside our country of birth, soccer is nostalgia. It reminds us of those streets and empty lots where we scraped our knees and dodged cars just to score a goal between two rocks. And there’s no way to put aside those emotions and nostalgia when you turn on the TV to watch a soccer match.
I grew up with soccer in my life – always wanted to be like the unforgettable Enrique Borja – and I think we’re all better because of that. I learned how to play in a team, made friends I still have, and every Saturday I join a group of headstrong enthusiasts for a friendly game.
My first hero did not come out of comic books. It was Pelé. And I am glad the great soccer announcer Enrique “El Perro” Bermúdez, who has covered a dozen World Cups, agrees Pelé was the best ever – with apologies to Maradona, Messi and Ronaldo. “He hit it with the left, with the right, with the head, an extraordinary sense for control of the ball, securely. He had it all,” Bermúdez told me in an interview. “King Pelé, Number 1.”
For Bermúdez, this will be his last World Cup as a announcer. To listen to one of his soccer commentaries is a gift. His phrases are unforgettable. “Tirititito,” “How pretty is pretty,” “To the corner, papá” and “Where the spiders weave their nest.” His first World Cup was in Argentina in 1978. And like many others, soccer changed his life. It was, simply, “the pleasure of doing what you love.”
But there’s also drama in soccer. We Mexicans have been obsessed with the curse of the fourth match. We have not made it past that in almost any World Cup. The Green hope is that Qatar will be different.
“The first goal is (to beat) Poland,” the head of the Mexican Soccer Federation, Yon de Luisa, told me on WhatsApp. Second, “to move into group play, to remain among the top 16, consistently since 1994.” And third, “our goal, where we would consolidate our mission, would be to be in the top eight, if we manage to make it to the fifth game this time. Then we would be putting our mark on our goal, not in 2022 but in 2026.
Meanwhile, you know what I’ll be doing over the next month. Watching soccer.
Too much? Maybe. But it feeds my soul and eases my nostalgia.