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As the Qatar World Cup approaches, so the promises sink into sand. Asked very specifically this week about gay rights issues during the tournament, the Supreme Committee offered a reply as disturbing as it was faultlessly polite.
‘Everyone will be welcome to Qatar in 2022, regardless of race, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality,’ they said.
‘We are a relatively conservative society – for example, public displays of affection are not part of our culture. We believe in mutual respect, so whilst everyone is welcome, what we expect in return is for everyone to respect our culture and traditions.’
As the World Cup approaches in Qatar, the promises around the showpiece sink into sand
And it sounds so harmless. But it isn’t. Qatar’s culture and traditions are at a fork in the road from what is acceptable for most World Cup visitors.
And not just those in the West. Every qualifier from Europe and the Americas, plus Japan, Australia, South Korea and parts of Africa are more liberal than Qatar, at least 26 of 32 participating countries.
So that’s not only a problem for gay people. That is, potentially, an issue for the straightest, most middle of the road football supporter, who has followed his country around the world and thinks he has seen it all.
Fans will enter a world in which life can change overnight through circumstances and behaviour that would not raise an eyebrow anywhere else they have ever visited.
The reply over gay rights issues was disturbing, and will be at odds with most visitors this year
Drunkenness. Public displays of affection, such as kissing. A cheque that bounces. A V-sign or a swear word, particularly to an official.
A photograph taken in the wrong place. Shorts in a shopping mall. Striking up a conversation with a woman counts as harassment. These relative trifles can become serious offences.
Any dispute with a local, from a disputed taxi fare to an issue at a hotel, might escalate into several nights in jail.
And, under normal circumstances, those are the rules. If you choose to holiday or work in a place with draconian laws, that is your call. As the Supreme Committee state: respect the culture and traditions.
There is barely a football fan in the world who would have taken the tournament to Qatar
But this isn’t your choice. There is barely a football fan in the world who would have taken this tournament to Qatar.
FIFA have put it there, but will be assuming no responsibility beyond that. From their side, there will be private planes and security channels ready to whisk away any figure in a blazer who transgresses when the games begin.
The banks used to have exactly those systems when they first opened up in Dubai – a way of getting an individual the hell out before that row over the cocktail bill at Zero Gravity escalated.
There will be no such protection for the ordinary fan and while, clearly, the gay community are most vulnerable – the Supreme Committee would not even confirm whether a rainbow flag would be permissible – this is not about unfamiliar minorities, or extreme antics. Behaviour that wouldn’t merit a second look, drunkenness in a football crowd for instance, is incredibly foreign in Qatar.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino had been unable to muster up enthusiasm from a Qatar crowd
There is film of FIFA president Gianni Infantino on a recent visit there trying to get a Qatari crowd to ‘make the place really vibrate’. On a count of three, he wants to hear ‘Qatar, Qatar, Qatar’.
The noise dwindles out after the first shambolic echo. He then repeats the instructions, but with ‘FIFA, FIFA, FIFA’ to even less enthusiasm. Stoning remains legal in Qatar, but sadly underused.
Still, it’s a miserable piece of footage because it shows the gulf in engagement between what football expects and what Qatar can deliver. Except, this time, if football tries to be itself, what may be delivered could be unlike anything ever experienced.
PRINCIPLED NOVAK WOULD BE A POPULAR CHAMPION
A very British sense of fairness is enveloping Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.
He says he was pleasantly surprised by the warm reception he has received on Centre Court but, if anything, his reputation has been enhanced by recent controversies.
In Australia, earlier this year, few supported Djokovic’s stance. He looked to be playing games with his Covid declarations, flouting regulations, setting a poor example.
The Government as good as claimed Djokovic was rabble-rousing and there were questions over the authenticity and timing of some paperwork. It was a poor show.
Novak Djokovic will still be a popular Wimbledon champion, no matter his unpopular choices
Since then, Djokovic’s objections have been sincerely delivered. He is not a Covid denier, more a fit man who believes in alternative medicine ahead of vaccines.
We may think he is wrong – he is wrong, because vaccines prevented an even greater global disaster – but those are his beliefs and he is sticking to them. And we feel he is entitled to stick to them, as long as he doesn’t harm others.
The fact that he is prepared to risk his participation in the US Open – and with it his status as the greatest in history – given he has won there three times and in Australia nine, makes it a matter of principle, too.
As a country, we respect principle. Djokovic would still be a popular Wimbledon champion, no matter his unpopular choices.
EMMA HAS BECOME A VESSEL FOR CRITICS TO VENT ANGER
The problem for Emma Raducanu is that any defeat becomes a vessel into which her critics pour their dissatisfactions.
From those who think an elite tennis player needs a coaching team, or at least a coach – and that’s 99 per cent of the sport – to Australian blowhards frustrated that since Ash Barty retired their only player of note is tiresome toddler Nick Kyrgios.
One sports writer from the Antipodes took a very dim view of Raducanu’s rebuttal of questions about her second-round Wimbledon exit. He cited Barty achieving her ultimate goal by winning the Australian Open.
The issue for Emma Raducanu is that any defeat becomes a vessel for critics to let rip at her
‘You see, Emma?’ he crowed. ‘That’s what being a champion is about.’ Another way of looking at it is that Barty won three Grand Slam titles, then jacked it in.
Had Serena Williams done the same, she would have retired after winning her first Wimbledon 19 years ago.
That she went on to win another 20 Grand Slam singles titles – we won’t go into the many doubles crowns and Olympic medals because we’ve all got homes to go to – including seven in Australia to Barty’s one suggests that if we are defining the essence of champion spirit, Williams is the touchstone.
As it is, Raducanu is two Slams off Barty, and she’s 19. Who knows whether she gets there – but it’s fair to say there’s time.
DOES NADINE THINK BOBBY GEORGE WON THE ASHES IN 1966?
Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, rarely misses a chance to burnish her straight-talking northern credentials.
Most recently the self-described ‘council estate Scouser’ was on LBC patronisingly stating how ‘the rest of the country’ – therefore not the London-centric, metropolitan, liberal elite – had never even heard of ethics chief Lord Geidt before his resignation. Probably too busy with their whippets.
Strange, then, that the one time Dorries sought election in the north, she lost Hazel Grove to the Liberal Democrats by 8,435 votes, before being awarded the safe seat of Mid Bedfordshire. We digress.
On Thursday, Dorries was at a press conference for the Rugby League World Cup, when she treated the room to her favourite moment from the sport’s rich history.
‘My long-standing memory is that 2003 drop goal,’ she said. ‘I’ll let you into a little secret: we were drinking Bloody Marys at the time. It was 11 o’clock in the morning but, wow, what a moment that was.’
Nadine Dorries committed a gaffe when mixing up Rugby League and Rugby Union at an event
No doubt Dorries was also thinking how nice it was for the Australians to let us have those two extra players. OK, so she confused the codes. Nobody’s perfect.
But this was a speech, not an on-the-hoof question and answer session. How many underlings failed to spot she was at a rugby league gig talking about a rugby union match? Is there no one in her office even borderline competent?
Dorries attempted retrieval on Twitter, even contriving to shoehorn Jason Robinson, who played both codes including the 2003 World Cup final for England, into her statement. Unfortunately, she then attempted mitigation. ‘Obviously I’ve followed rugby league much less in my lifetime,’ she said.
Obviously? Dorries was born in Liverpool, before the family moved to Runcorn. St Helens is 20 minutes away. And she trained as a nurse and worked for three years in Warrington. It’s rugby league’s heartland.
She might as well be raised in St Andrews and claim to be ignorant of golf.
Never forget, these are the people Gary Neville and others hope will soon be bringing their expertise in governance to football. We’ll probably all need Bloody Marys by then, as Dorries fondly recalls Bobby George lifting the Ashes in 1966.
CONGESTION CHARGE IS UEFA HYPOCRISY
Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA president and lucky to still be in the job after the life-threatening debacle at the Champions League final, was on his high horse about the overcrowded fixture list this week.
Deflecting criticism he claimed domestic leagues should only have 18 teams, maximum, and one domestic cup. ‘It is easy to attack UEFA and FIFA,’ he simpered.
Yes, they do make it so. Yet it was 1995-96 when the Premier League was reduced to 20 clubs and there has been no increase in the number of fixtures since. Spain’s La Liga has had the same number, 20, since 1997-98.
Aleksander Ceferin, the UEFA president who is lucky to still be in a job, was on his high horse
At the time, a Champions League campaign from group stage to final comprised 11 games. In 2024-25, when the new Champions League format is introduced, the same route will require 15 games minimum, 17 maximum. And in 1960-61, when the League Cup was introduced, Benfica won the European Cup by playing nine matches, including two against Hearts in a preliminary round.
So it isn’t the domestic leagues that are coming up with ever greater fixture demands to boost revenue. It is the architects of the UEFA Nations League, another new competition, and the 24-team European Championship.
It is then FIFA who plan to expand the Club World Cup to 24 teams, rather than the two that used to compete for the Intercontinental Cup, and will in 2026 play a World Cup with 48 participants. It is the governing bodies, not the domestic leagues, that have left us with this bloated calendar, and Ceferin is being disingenuous. Again.
PIQUET’S LANGUAGE DEFENCE IS SO PATHETIC
How complex the many languages and dialects of the South American continent. They seem to have as many words for n***** as the eskimos do for snow.
When Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra we all had to listen patiently as his defenders explained the nuances of Rioplatense Spanish, that negrito is not the same as negro and either can be used affectionately. What was implied if negrito was uttered while pinching a man’s black skin proved more elusive.
Now we are asked to believe that the word neguinho used by Nelson Piquet to describe Lewis Hamilton is also lost in translation and no harm was intended. It’s Brazilian Portuguese, apparently, meaning person or guy.
Nelson Piquet’s exclusion from the Formula One paddock is the smallest of punishments
So why not say the Brazilian for person, or guy? Those words exist. Better still, why not use the man’s name: Hamilton?
We should be bored with this by now. Bored and angry. Nobody who has travelled the world as much as Piquet is unaware that defining a man by his skin colour – neguinho is at best ‘little black man’ and at worst ‘little n*****’ – is unacceptable.
Piquet’s exclusion from the Formula One paddock is the smallest of punishments, nor does a late and dismal defence from Max Verstappen, whose girlfriend Kelly is Piquet’s daughter, reflect well on him or Red Bull.
EFL MUST STOP THE BLAME GAME
Somehow, Laurence Bassini is manoeuvring into position to take control at Birmingham City. His past shows up two bankruptcies in seven years, and a three-year ban from holding a position at any Football League club after a spell at Watford, in which he was found guilty of misconduct and dishonesty.
After he left, when Watford lost a play-off final, Bassini sent gloating messages to a local newspaper. Classy. Later, in 2019, a takeover deal for Bolton dragged on to such an extent that a 12-point deduction, which would have come into effect during a relegation season in the Championship, instead greeted the club in League One. Bassini has been a horror wherever he goes.
Now, backed by funding from West Ham owner David Sullivan’s investment company – surely a conflict of interests – Bassini looks set to alight on Birmingham. And if this all ends in calamity, do you know whose fault it will be?
The Premier League, of course. Everything that goes wrong in the leagues below is the Premier League’s fault, according to EFL chairman Rick Parry. That’s why his clubs are struggling and need more money. That’s why we need the Government’s mates to run football. Not because the EFL let characters like Bassini in three times.
No, it’s the Premier League’s fault. Everything is.
Somehow, Laurence Bassini is manoeuvring into position to take control at Birmingham City