The World Cup begins

The World Cup begins
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Islam News – The World Cup began yesterday. In the first match, Ecuador defeated Qatar, the host nation.

This is typically a joyous sporting event, but concerns about corruption and human rights violations loom large. Qatar’s World Cup may have permanently altered the fabric of the sport.

The Morning newsletter spoke with my colleague Tariq Panja, who is at the tournament. Here’s an excerpt from their interview.

How big is the World Cup, globally?

There’s nothing bigger than this, not even the Olympics. The World Cup is the most-watched event in the world.

These 32 teams capture the imagination of supporters even outside their borders, particularly in Asia, where most countries historically do not qualify for the World Cup.

Why did Qatar want to host so badly?

Qatar is a tiny speck in the Gulf desert wanting the world to know it’s here. It’s the first Arab and first Muslim nation to host a sporting event of this size. Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are looking on enviously.

In 2009, Qatar spent tens of millions of dollars to try to host the World Cup. Still, Qatar’s bid seemed like a joke. They were getting questions about the heat, about how they could fit the games in a country smaller than Connecticut and whether they would allow alcohol.

When FIFA’s president at the time opened the envelope and Qatar’s name came out, immediately everyone zeroed in on corruption. The investigations that followed forced FIFA to change the way it designated a host and revealed how a country was able to bend the world to its will through force of cash.

How has Qatar prepared? And what are the controversies?

They essentially had to rebuild an entire country in 12 years to host this one-month event.

They amassed hundreds of thousands of overseas workers, particularly South Asian workers, to do this construction. Thousands of those workers have died in Qatar since 2010, the year the country won hosting rights, according to human rights groups. It’s been a collision of some of the world’s poorest people with the ambition of some of the world’s richest people.

The country’s human rights record has been under scrutiny beyond the worker deaths. The World Cup is supposed to be this festival open to everyone. How does that square with a country that would jail you for being gay?

What are you watching for in the matches?

Everything is politicized.

Iran is under a lot of scrutiny because of their national protests; a player from France, Eduardo Camavinga, has received racist messages on social media; some of Argentina’s fans have created a nasty, racist song about another French player, Kylian Mbappé.

In terms of the soccer, look out for Brazil. Then there’s Argentina. This may be the last World Cup for one of the sport’s greats, Lionel Messi.

And a non-European team has not won the tournament since 2002. So maybe this will be the time to end that 20-year wait.

Islam News