The most controversial of FIFA World Cups kicked off in Qatar yesterday. Right from the time Qatar won the bid in 2010 it has been under relentless scrutiny from the Western press. That the bid was surrounded by murky power politics within the FIFA, though hardly surprising, didn’t help matters for the Arab nation. Qatar had built eight new football stadiums relying on migrant workers largely from the Indian sub-continent. The workers’ safety and working conditions, wages, living conditions were dissected minutely by the Western media, with workers’ death due to lax standards routinely hogging the headlines in the Western press.
Some good came out of this media scrutiny as the Qatar government did make a concerted effort to improve workers’ conditions. But did the western media overplay its criticism? Could it be accused of double standards and bias? FIFA chief Gianni Infantino certainly thinks so as he launched an astonishing attack on the Western media in his press conference on Saturday. Infantino said, given Europe’s sorry record on immigration, turning away illegal migrants arriving in boats, it hardly has the moral right to speak about Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers. What must have amused Western journalists and made them squirm in equal measure was when Infantino said given what Europe did to the rest of the world in the last 3,000 years it should apologize for the next 3,000! Well, Europe did not exist 3,000 years ago, maybe he meant 300.
But the off-field controversies have a way of disappearing, once the action starts on the pitch, as several journalists have averred. Despite the murky politics surrounding sport, it does find a way of transcending all that, thanks to the performance of the players and the fans’ passion.
So will an African or Asian nation surprise us by lifting the Cup?