It’s here that the Qatari rulers and FIFA would expect me to simply write about the quarterfinals of the World Cup that start today. And they are mouthwatering, in a vacuum of just soccer. All eight teams come in with a great story. Whether it’s Brazil not only trying to collect their sixth trophy but simultaneously living up to the standards of some of their most illustrious sides. Or Leo Messi’s pursuit of total affirmation. Or Portugal moving on from their greatest ever player in real-time, or England trying to live up to the vision that the country has of itself in the sport it invented. Or maybe Morocco’s surprise run is more your flavor of vodka. The Dutch battling against what they used to stand for as their sufferball continues to see them progress. Croatia’s amazing ability to simply still be around given their size and reputation compared to the rest. There’s France with the best player in this tournament and his ascension to the highest club, ones where only names like Maradona or Pele or Cruyff have the password. It’s a wealth of narrative joy.
FIFA and Qatar thought that would be enough. They thought that would be all. But the thing about being so rich, and so utterly corrupt, is that their version of reality is so warped not only do they see things completely differently than the rest of us, in such an oblivious manner, they also can’t conceive of why the world doesn’t look the same to the rest of us.
Which is how you get a reaction like this to being questioned about a migrant worker who died at the training site of Saudi Arabia:
Or this ostrich in the sand impression when facing any sort of tough question:
It’s hard for you and me to fathom just how rich the rulers of Qatar are. Their natural gas reserves and oil have let them essentially build an entire World Cup from scratch in about a decade, along with all the other things that have come to Qatar in recent times.
That much money has clearly convinced these people that not only are they rich, or better, but everything is in service to them. The World Cup was simply another event, another vehicle for them to get all that they want, to be praised and worshiped as true visionaries and betters, when in reality they just happen to live where all that gas and oil is. The migrant workers whom they abuse and let die, are simply another factor in service to their greatness, as they see it. The journalists and fans who came to Qatar for this tournament were just supposed to be more to marvel and gawk at what they created, to dance the dance that these people had set out when they paid off every FIFA official they could to get the tournament in the first place. Those asking questions or actively protesting are simply not part of the plan that they never considered wouldn’t be followed by everyone. Everything else bends to them and their money, why won’t this?
You don’t have to go to Qatar to see the way money, especially unearned money essentially, deludes those who have a lot of it. We live in a country distorted by a host of people who simply have no idea what it costs or what it’s like to have less money. And having a lot of it has convinced them that they are better, theirs is the way, and they don’t even need to know what rent or groceries actually cost. It’s just in Qatar this has been multiplied and mutated to a ridiculous degree.
I don’t know if Qatar thought it could buy its way out of any scrutiny, though I tend to lean to the idea that they’re so sheltered they never thought it would come. They seem so unprepared for it. We saw it when HBO’s Real Sports went there years ago, and when an official was told that the news crew already had visited the grotesque living quarters of migrant workers, simply walked away because he had no answers. He’d never anticipated the questions. It seemingly never dawned on any of them that this information could get around. Everything is in service to them, and when something is not, it’s simply not how things work.
Perhaps deep down, they know they don’t have to care because what’s going to change it? The Qatari government clearly doesn’t care. Foreign governments aren’t going to march an army there to protect migrant workers. And they’re all too dependent on the resources Qatar has to raise that much of a fuss. That security of knowing there are no consequences would only distort their view of reality even more.
It has always felt like Qatar genuinely thought this would be a celebration of their country, and are shocked it’s become simply a megaphone to the death, abuse, and detritus that it is built on. That obscene amount of money and the walls it builds around those who have it certainly creates such a bubble.
This World Cup will have a dual-track history. The drama of the end of the group stage and whatever happens from here will certainly be cataloged. Any of the eight who end up winning it will have a great story. But it’ll be told right alongside the callousness and ugliness of the host and the organization that enabled it. They’ll be linked forever.
Is that enough? No, it won’t save lives, or bring back the ones already lost. It’s more than nothing I guess. But as much as a lot of us can’t wait for it to be over, those who run Qatar are just as anxious to return to their bubble where these questions and scrutiny don’t exist anymore. Not all that much will change, including having any answer about why this all had to happen in the first place other than the obvious.