David Parkin on the sound of silence

DID somebody say there was a World Cup happening soon?

For every previous FIFA men’s football tournament I can remember, that question, coming on the eve of a tournament, would have been sarcastic and, frankly, plain daft.

Anticipation about a World Cup would have been bubbling towards fever pitch.

In recent years St George’s flags bedecking homes and cars across England have become commonplace in the run-up to and during tournaments.

Shops were full of World Cup related merchandise.

Supermarkets were doing deals on boxes of beers and BBQ food as families and friends gathered in their gardens to watch the summer tournament.

Even the daily diet of matches in the group stages – up to four a day, the equivalent of a soccer sugar rush – was exciting.

Whether you feasted on all the fixtures broadcast on television or you adopted my usual approach which is something of a smörgåsbord style, dipping in and out of matches after perusing the list of fixtures, you were guaranteed entertainment.

However my approach does leave you open to missing out on some of the best games, though.

Looking at the list of matches, it is the ones like Belgium v Canada, Switzerland v Cameroon and Morocco v Croatia which could prove to be the most thrilling in the group stages, rather than some of the tactical chess matches you get in the knockout section.

I don’t know about you but I don’t have a shred of excitement and anticipation about the forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

It starts on Sunday but the build up, usually so full of hoopla, has been muted.

Terrestrial broadcasters the BBC and ITV, who usually have to make do with the crumbs from the TV table – Premier League and EFL highlights and the odd cup match – will screen all 64 matches at this year’s World Cup.

Usually you can’t get away from their preview shows and trailers when you turn on the telly before the tournament.

This time they appear non-existent, or half-hearted in the case of the BBC trailer suggesting that we all change our habits during a major football tournament – dogs don’t get walked etc.

Winter is not just a strange time to hold a World Cup tournament, Qatar is a very weird place to host it.

The fact that FIFA has told football associations and their teams to focus on football and not wider issues shows that even the organisers know they are on shifting sands when it comes to justifying why they chose this vastly wealthy state on the Arabian Peninsula which has a population smaller than that of Wales.

Football’s ruling body, which has been surrounded by the stench of corruption for so long that most don’t even recognise the smell of it any more, reached its nadir in 2010 when, on the same day, it awarded Russia the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the next one after that in 2022.

Forget the fact that at the time it didn’t have any football stadiums, at first all the talk about Qatar was focused on how a summer World Cup could be held in a country where average summer temperatures can soar above 40 degrees celsius.

It took FIFA five years to make the decision to move the tournament to the winter months with a final which will be played a week before Christmas Day, on December 18.

By that point the focus had shifted to other, deeper concerns about Qatar hosting the tournament.

The Gulf state’s human rights record, the treatment of migrant workers brought in to build the infrastructure needed to put on a World Cup and its ban on homosexuality and same-sex relationships have rightly become a focus of wide publicity before the tournament.

Qatar has been accused of buying the World Cup to enable it to indulge in “sportswashing” – using sport to burnish your reputation.

It’s rulers might now be starting to wonder if it was all worth it.

But then once the football has started will that serve to muffle the protests?

I hope not.

Because everything seems wrong about this World Cup.

The fact it is taking place in November and December means we won’t be gathering in pub gardens or fan parks to raise a glass and watch it.

I don’t know about you but I don’t have the urge to gather with friends to watch it inside a pub or together at home.

You often hear the phrase “not fit for purpose”,  well that has applied to FIFA for years, if not decades.

It thrives because it can command extraordinary amounts of money from sponsors for the World Cup.

But I don’t see sponsors flaunting their backing of the World Cup ahead of this tournament.

If you were Budweiser – the official beer of the World Cup – would you be happy that it was been flogged for 12 quid a pint in tightly controlled fan parks at the tournament?

Reports emerged yesterday that the Qatari authorities are attempting to ban the sale of beer in the stadiums where matches are being played.

You can’t really argue with that given that there is a ban on drinking alcohol in public in Qatar.

If we are going to take a positive from anything to do with this tournament, then I’ve been impressed by how some of the players, such as England captain Harry Kane, Gareth Bale of Wales and Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes, haven’t shied away from speaking up about the issues to do with holding the World Cup in Qatar.

Footballers are often derided as ignorant and inarticulate but these players have stood up to be counted when there has been little said by their own football associations.

And I was impressed by a column that sports presenter Gabby Logan wrote for the BBC website this week.

She wrote: “I’ve been going to World Cups as a journalist since France 1998, and the build-up to this one is the most unusual I’ve ever experienced.

“Normally, when I am about to go to these tournaments, I am just thinking about what I am expecting to see on the pitch and getting excited about what is always a great festival of football – as I am sure most of you do too.

“That’s not the case this time. We are only days away from the first game but the background behind Qatar hosting this World Cup and the controversies surrounding the regime there take some of that excitement away, and make me feel uncomfortable about the whole occasion.”

I’ve always admired Gabby Logan as a talented broadcaster without the ego many of her contemporaries possess, who doesn’t put herself at the centre of what she is talking about.

She also clearly has the capacity to think deeply about issues and analyse them effectively.

To be highlighting the issues surrounding the World Cup in Qatar on the eve of travelling there to cover it is laudable.

How many other football pundits have you seen do that?

To be honest, most of them struggle to articulate their thoughts about football, never mind deeper socio-political issues.

In my opinion Gary Neville is the most articulate and thoughtful ex-footballer who appears on our screens.

He has successfully claimed and dominated the moral high ground on many issues in football, including the planned launch of the European Super League and the ownership of Premier League clubs..

But he hasn’t been as outspoken about Qatar hosting the World Cup.

Perhaps that is because he will be working as a pundit for the Qatari state broadcaster beIN at the tournament – something he was mercilessly highlighted by Ian Hislop when Neville hosted a recent episode of Have I Got News For You.

This is a World Cup shrouded in controversy.

Will that be forgotten when the football starts?

I’m not so sure.


AT previous World Cup and European Championship tournaments, particularly where England’s matches took place during the day on weekdays, firms have hosted events for clients and contacts but I’ve not seen an invitation to anything like that for this tournament.

If you are going to such a gathering and I’m not there, it’s not that I haven’t been invited, I’m boycotting it.

Have a great weekend.

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