Well, now we know for certain. It is official. Even with fully air-conditioned stadiums, it is too hot in Qatar in June and July for players to play and fans to watch football.
It is not too hot, of course, for that unconscionable nation’s army of slaves to sweat away another seven summers building stadiums. It’s just too hot to play in them.
Now that the 2022 Christmas World Cup is a certainty, we can only hope Bob Geldof won’t miss this great opportunity to tweak a few more lyrics in the name of a worthy cause. “Here’s to you, raise an official Fifa World Cup beer for everyone / Here’s to them entering into cardiac arrest in their thousands underneath that burning sun.”
Since Fifa’s 25-man executive – around half of whom have now left in the wake of corruption allegations – gave a big thumbs-up to a tournament in a super-heated country with a population significantly smaller than the combined capacity of the stadiums it is now building, the decision has been continually prodded with the same Morton’s Fork that has punctured liars and charlatans throughout history. You didn’t know it got hot in the Middle East in July? Either you’re grossly incompetent or you’re a liar.
But there is, appropriately enough, a Third Way, and in charting it, Michel Platini, for so long seen as the White Knight charging football’s reeking corridors of power, has revealed himself to be no better than the rest.
“I always said that it would be a winter World Cup,” he said this week, arriving at Fifa’s black glass and granite lair in the hills above Zurich, as he and the rest of the international football blazerati met to finally ratify their own shameful folly. “I always said I will vote for Qatar, but that I will do my best for it to be in winter and I hope it will be in the Gulf.
“I’m totally coherent with what I said four years ago, totally. I work for what I am convinced is good for football.”
Not a liar then, nor incompetent, but a strategiser, a conniver, a politician. Everything that every honest and decent Blatter-hating football fan around the world is so fundamentally sick to death of.
It is a curious fact that the conventional wisdom somehow became that Platini would be the man to lead football’s de-Blatterisation, given he was for a while the demagogue’s chosen one.
Yet here we are, two months away from a presidential election in which Platini has not stood – because he knew he would not win – and is instead co-ordinating this odd Luis Figo/Prince Ali/Michael Van Praag multi-ball strategy, to inflict as much damage on the unbeatable Blatter, and then reappraise the lie of the land in four years’ time.
Sports politics shouldn’t be like proper politics. Though it may not always appear so, the differences that divide political parties who seek to run countries are deep and serious. All Fifa does, really, though it will always be too pompous to admit it, is organise the world’s favourite party. It is a miracle of its own making that it should be so universally loathed.
Platini stands almost alone in the organisation, in that he was once a legendary player, not just a lawyer or an administrator of whom suspicions should be automatically raised when they decide to enter the realm of sports politics. But it is clear that he has crossed the divide, that he has gone native.
The Qatar World Cup will be “good for football” only in the sense of what football has become. Good for sucking into football’s orbit this new region of the world that is suddenly overrun with cash, and nothing so inconvenient as democracy to stand between it and the men who want it. Good for adding a whole range of Gulf oil and telecoms companies to its portfolio, which is still overly dependent on Big Macs and fizzy pop. (South Africa, Brazil and Russia have all been recruited for this purpose.)
It will be good for no one else on this vast football-loving planet. No one. Football was once the working man’s game, and the elastic that connects it to that past is strained, but it has not yet fully snapped. Yet in seven years’ time the jewel in its crown moves to a nation that has no working class, just a bloated bourgeoisie, waited on by an army of migrant serfs with confiscated passports, rich on the fumes that will boil your grandkids alive.
It’s possible that Platini’s chance at the big prize has been and gone, and that in four years’ time he will not present himself to the football world as the next great hope. But if he does, it should not be forgotten that he was a key proponent of the most shameful moment in the game’s history.
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