It’s not that the World Cup on the field erased what we all know about the World Cup off the field. It is actually possible for something to be two things at once. Qatar got what it really wanted out of all this, which was a heaping pile of money the size of Kilimanjaro. Only they will know whether that was enough to offset the K2-sized pile of cash they poured into preparing and running the thing. If they hoped it would add a nice sheen to the country and make it a hotbed of business and tourism more than it already was, that’s probably harder to say was a success. Everyone knows what the place is now, and while there are enough countries and rich people that either desperately need their resources or checked their morals at the door long ago to use it as a vacation spot as they currently do, it’s hard to see that number growing much. It’s not justice or victory, but I suppose it’s something.
That doesn’t mean that the ugly side of international sports disappears now that the tournament is over. Far from it. Because these things are still run by clueless organizations that are only good at checking bank balances.
FIFA isn’t done, of course. They have another World Cup just eight months from now — the women’s in Australia, and New Zealand. Thankfully that doesn’t come with any of the human rights violations or rampant homophobia or suppression of women that this recently wrapped one did. But that doesn’t mean FIFA can’t fuck up a drinking session in a brewery!
Last week it came out that FIFA had turned down a request from several countries heading Down Under this summer to expand the rosters from 23 to 26 players, as the men’s World Cup had been. FIFA expanded the rosters for the men’s tournament because of its placing in the middle of the club season and the lingering concerns over the effects of COVID. It didn’t expand the women’s rosters because it felt it would give the favored teams yet another advantage.
All of these reasons to not expand the rosters for this summer’s tournament don’t hold up to any sort of light. A. The tournament lands right in the middle of the NWSL season, which carries a lot of weight and a lot of players in the tourney, not just on the U.S. team. The fact that the tournament is slotted in its regular spot, after the European domestic season, is only more reason to guard against fatigue and injury, because most players will have completed their entire workload in a club season and will still be feeling the effects a month later. When are players fresher exactly, three months into a nine-month campaign or at the end of it?
While Australia and New Zealand have managed the COVID pandemic better than just about anyone, the influx of 32 teams and fans of those teams present their own challenges. Unlike Qatar, not every fan and player and team official will be packed into essentially one city, which made spreading a virus that much easier (like the one that waylaid France or is now zipping around Europe), that doesn’t mean the concern has gone away.
Thirdly, while the scene is different in women’s soccer, the recently concluded tournament in Qatar kind of showed that 26-player rosters didn’t keep some underdogs from making long runs, did it? This combined with the biggest reason the women’s tournament should have 26-player rosters, is the fact that women players are more susceptible to injuries especially ACL ones, FIFA is only going to reverse-engineer tilting things to the normal powers.
If the normal load of injuries strikes during the tournament, less talented teams that are shorthanded are going to be more up against it than they normally would be. The stronger, deeper squads are going to be rolling with better replacements anyway, but FIFA may really stick it to a big team if they have any crisis akin to what France just went through. Just yesterday. Holland’s Vivianne Miedema tore her ACL. Lieke Martens did so last summer during the Euros. Catarina Macario is working her way back from one. So is Alexia Putellas, and this is just to name a few. If FIFA is trying to force parity in this tournament by simply being callous, that’s not the way to go about it.
But of course, FIFA is not alone. In six days, the IIHF World Junior Championship will start in Canada. And it will do so against the backdrop of Ontario police proceeding with investigating and possibly charging all the former Hockey Canada players who allegedly gang-raped a woman in 2018 under the Hockey Canada banner. And this was after it’s already been out that Hockey Canada attempted to cover the case up, didn’t tell the police about it, or the Canadian government even though that’s who oversees the organization. Or the fact that the organization has a few slush funds fueled by the registration fees of players and parents of players alike that are specifically designed to pay out hush money to sexual assault survivors everywhere. Survivors of players and coaches under the umbrella of Hockey Canada.
Canada is only hosting the tournament because Russia was stripped of the honor due to the invasion of Ukraine, and Russia won’t compete. There’s no country as turnkey ready to host something like this than Canada, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. Why is Canada allowed in this tournament at all, which is the same question we asked during the summer when they held the bastardized version of the 2022 tournament in Edmonton. Hockey Canada, the organization that picks and runs the team that will skate out there in a week in Halifax and New Brunswick, is under investigation. Why do they get to pocket the revenues from hosting? We’ve already seen what they do with the money that just happens to be lying around.
It’ll be a chilling, though familiar, sight when a bunch of kids — just like the ones who reportedly committed that heinous crime and some others — wearing the symbol of Hockey Canada on their chests skate out to the rapturous roar of a crowd waving the Maple Leaf furiously. How’s that going to make every survivor feel? Or the people close to them? Or enforce the massive reforms that Hockey Canada clearly needs?
We’ve known about Hockey Canada’s slithering and oozing underbelly since the summer, which would have been more than enough time to punt this thing to Buffalo or another site with no NHL team and scheduling conflicts, or Helsinki or Stockholm. But the IIHF probably only thinks about the sold-out buildings they’ll get in Eastern Canada and the TV coverage the Canadian team gets. It probably couldn’t stomach the idea of a tourney without both Canada and Russia, even though that’s what would be right. But right never really enters into the equation for these organizations.