At the World Cup in Qatar, the Qatar national team did very badly. Rightfully qualified as the host country’s team, they have scored just one goal and lost the three matches they have played, never giving the impression that they could even come close to a win, in front of Qatari spectators who sometimes left the stadiums before the games ended. Nonetheless, the World Cup was a great success for Qatar, something that even just a few weeks ago was by no means a given.
Since FIFA, the body that governs world football, awarded these World Cups to Qatar in 2010, much has been written and talked about all the problems associated with the assignment. Qatar is in fact a very small country with no relevant footballing tradition, which moreover has another big problem from a sporting point of view: in the summer it is too hot to play a World Cup, which has therefore been moved for the first time in history to winter in the northern hemisphere. Above all, Qatar’s candidacy has brought with it strong suspicions of corruption and many problems related to environmental sustainability issues; however, one of the biggest issues was the systematic exploitation of many foreign workers and in general the non-respect of human rights in the country.
Like he pointed out the New York Times, “it is difficult to think that in the next few years FIFA will be able to find a more unlikely host country than Qatar”, which when it was chosen was among the least equipped countries to organize a tournament such as the soccer World Cup. With a total expenditure of no less than 220 billion euros, Qatar has however built all the necessary infrastructure, as well as seven stadiums made especially for the tournament, saying that after the final more than one would be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere, so far without giving but more information on how or when this will be done.
With the World Cup approaching, the first match of which was on November 20, the criticisms, inquiries, positions taken and calls to boycott the event had become more intense. Attempts to defend Qatar they were rare and often mostly based on the fact that in the past World Cups and Olympics had already been hosted in other more or less problematic countries.
Even after the first matches there were many non-football topics and the general attention towards them was often high. There was talk, for example, of the ban on the use of rainbow bands by captains and the consequent protests by German footballers, of the poor housing for supporters, of the ban (decided only at the last minute) on the sale of alcohol in stadiums, of those who appeared to be fans of foreign national teams in Qatar but which some speculated were extras paid by the host country.
With the passing of the days, however, football and talks about football have taken more and more space. According to Financial Times – who in recent months has devoted much attention, not just sporting, to the World Cup in Qatar – you can even find a before-and-after moment. That moment would have been the victory, on 22 November, of Saudi Arabia against the very favorite Argentina of Lionel Messi, a match which he offered “something new to talk about”.
To the surprise for Argentina’s defeat was then added that of other unexpected results, which contributed to shifting almost everyone’s attention to football issues: the elimination of Germany, Japan’s victory against Spain, the defeat of Neymar’s Brazil and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the quarter-finals, and above all Morocco’s progress to the semi-final against France.
At the World Cup, of course, there are always unexpected results: it’s difficult for everyone to always reflect the forecasts prior to the races. In Qatar, however, situations of this type were more numerous and interesting than the norm, let’s say, with many games in balance right up to the end, with more goals than in any other edition, with lots of extra time and with many conclusions on penalties. Furthermore, the fact that for the footballers this was the middle and not the end of their football season seems to have done well for the overall level of intensity and quality of play.
Not only was there more and more talk of football, as the days went by that football was more and more appreciated. And these World Cups are almost certainly destined to become the most followed ever in the world.
All with a final that many have spoken of as the best in the history of the World Cup, with three goals (plus one in the final penalties) by the French Kylian Mbappé and two goals (plus one in the final penalties) by Messi: two teammates to Paris Saint-Germain, the flagship team of Qatar’s sporting and political ambitions, which when playing for their club also have Qatar written on their chest, in the sponsor Qatar Airways. The final was also broadcast in many countries by beIN Sports, a television network controlled by a Qatari company whose president is Nasser al Khelaifi, the owner of Paris Saint-Germain, and ended with Messi lifting the cup while wearing the bishta ceremonial cloak typical of Arab culture.
Before, during and immediately after, many spoke of these World Cups as an event with which Qatar wanted to do “sportwashing”, that is, using sport to clean up its image, which polluting companies do, for example, by trying to join teams or athletes that people root for instead. The country’s image has further deteriorated due to the corruption scandal in the European Parliament, whose investigations are continuing.
Although the World Cup allowed many people to learn about the systematic human rights violations carried out in Qatar, today many observers believe that the tournament was a success for the country: «Qatar got the World Cup they wanted», he wrote on New York Times journalist Tariq Panja. «Qatar won», headlined theAtlantic.
The fact is that, rather than making itself beautiful and inviting in the eyes of the world, Qatar wanted to show itself powerful and effective, capable of getting ready and managing a major event, among other things without significant security problems inside and outside the stadiums. In other words, the goal was not to increase tourism for one month; it was manifesting what is often referred to as “soft power,” understood as the ability to gain prominence and influence without using force or the threat of force.
Even before the start of the World Cup, Barney Ronay, sports editor-in-chief of the Guardian, he had spoken of the event as a «major geopolitical security operation». At the end of the tournament, always Ronay he wrote that the World Cup was «very expensive, very polluting, stained with blood and with heavy shadows of corruption» but that «for the host country this controlled power game could not have gone much better than this».