Corrupt, success-buying, money-grubbing, insensitive, human rights-violating, intolerant Qatar. This unbearably hot desert nation, run by shiftless, oil-pimping tyrants, has been hell-bent on destroying all that is righteous and orderly in our otherwise pristine soccer utopia. Yet somehow, in a tragic, Greek comedy kind of way, Qatar will be hosting the 2022 World Cup. That’s the beginning, middle, and end of the story according to the vast majority of Qatar World Cup coverage in the so-called Western world.
We’ve been led to believe that Qatargate is about envelopes of money and Qatar’s moral bankruptcy. Suddenly whistleblowers and soccer officials around the world, finally, en masse, are speaking out for justice. Ever since Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, critics (self included) have been relentlessly taking shots at FIFA’s decision to award the Gulf nation with the world’s premier soccer showcase. In response to these constant body-blows, many Middle Eastern and Arab voices have claimed that the criticism aimed at Qatar is driven by racism and Islamophobia.
While accusations of the Western media’s racist and bigoted undertones have been relatively common, specific details of actual racism and bigotry have been sparse. Yet underneath Qatar’s racism claims may lie a legitimate claim: Hey, you guys are assholes because you lie and cheat with impunity. And now that we may have done it — quite possibly better than you — all of a sudden soccer’s the worst of all time and we’re all gonna die.
Lying and cheating. Let’s not forget that Russia was supposedly offering Picassos to persuade voters. Let’s not forget former CONCACAF president Jack Warner’s perpetual fuckery that led to him getting ostracized by a group with highly questionable levels of integrity (FIFA). Let’s not forget the insane number of FIFA Executive Committee members whose reputations have been sullied over the last few years. The list of Executive Committee members who voted for the 2022 World Cup reads like a who’s-who list from a FIFA corruption allegations hall of fame: Franz Beckenbauer (Germany), Julio Grondona (Argentina), Jack Warner (Trinidad & Tobago), Amos Adamu (Nigeria), Ricardo Texeira (Brazil), Mohamed Bin Hammam (Qatar), and America’s sweetheart Chuck Blaze(r). Let’s not forget. Let’s not forget that most of the signs point to an infrastructure of high-level fuckery that probably didn’t pop up overnight.
In perhaps the most comprehensive public report to date, the Sunday Times published a series of articles outlining its investigation into the 2022 bid. One of its main conclusions? Qatar’s bid was basically conducted in a cesspool of non-Olivia-Pope-related scandal and corruption. Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah, President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) countered the investigation’s claims, saying, “We will face all these racist attempts and attacks and will stand with Qatar.”
Was the Sunday Times investigation racist and discriminatory? No, not on its face. But that doesn’t render inquiries into the motivations about the investigation unreasonable. Why are you investigating us? Why now? Those aren’t easy questions to dismiss, unless you have little interest in self-scrutiny, or you’re of the opinion that Qatar invented corruption and bribery.
FIFA “President for Life” Sepp Blatter seemed to believe the motivations behind the investigation were worth examining. Speaking at an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) gathering in Sao Paulo, Blatter said, “Once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me. It really makes me sad.”
But Blatter’s no fool. He’s not as silly — at least not in all respects — as we like to claim. He knows where his votes come from. He knows when he needs to stand on his racism pulpit shaking his loosely clenched fist in faux-outrage, and to whom he should direct his stern accusations. Blatter also met with African delegates around the same time. Subsequently, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) released a statement criticizing “the repeated, deliberately hateful, defamatory and degrading attacks by some media, notably British, on the image and the integrity of the Confederation of African Football, its president, its members, its member associations and the entire African continent.”
Blatter knows that those largely browner-hued votes he’s been seducing for several electoral cycles are what insulate him from being run out of town. He continues to enjoy widespread support among FIFA’s Asian and African blocks, including the aforementioned Al-Sabah, who recently came out in support of Blatter’s re-election. Several CAF members have also recently gone on record sing Blatter’s praises, echoing what many already believe to be a foregone conclusion: most of Africa’s delegates support a fifth term for Blatter.
And so he panders. He evokes racism when his beloved institution is faced with allegations of corruption or impropriety. Many of those in power throughout Africa and Asia, indebted to and thankful for Blatter’s reign, climb on board, synching their wagging fingers and shaking fists with the president’s. The party trick is a common one: multiple allegations of racism and bigotry pointed at the nebulous Western world, and zero specificity.
If this game sounds vaguely familiar, maybe you’ve seen the work of Zimbabwe’s “President for Life” Robert Mugabe, listened to the late Hugo Chavez speak, or run across other leaders robotically touting the “destruction by the West” narrative whenever someone has the audacity to raise credibility or legitimacy questions. They’re out to destroy us. Let’s all stick together against the oppressors. Also, remember to vote for me in open, democratic elections (wink, wink); I’ll protect you.
It’s the same playbook Blatter leaned on when he told a group of Asian officials in June: “They want to destroy, not the game, but they want to destroy the institution.” Whether he was talking about FIFA or their little boys club that looks out for one another is unclear, although they may be the same thing.
Using racism as a convenient prop, as a political tool, is insulting, yet it doesn’t render the accusations invalid. The problem is, as time passes, it becomes difficult to distinguish between words meant to advance a reasonable critique of outsiders’ questionable intentions, and words used almost solely to consolidate power and deflect dissent. At some point, self-described champions who are constantly pillaging, enriching themselves and their conspirators, bathing in allegations of wrongdoing, are hard to take seriously. A maniacal drive to stay in power doesn’t help, either.
There are certainly perfectly legitimate reasons to raise one’s eyes at Qatar getting the World Cup. But there may also be perfectly legitimate reasons for Qatar and others critical of self-righteous hypocrisy to suggest that racism may at least partially or subconsciously be a motivating factor behind the scrutiny the Gulf nation receives, especially in the face of a history of global fuckery in the soccer world. After all, if we’re to believe reports from late last year, former CONCACAF general secretary and Executive Vice-President of the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) Chuck Blazer walked away from a long career in and around U.S. Soccer and FIFA, with millions of dollars, two apartments in the Trump Towers (one of which he reportedly used as a plush pad for his two cats), several other luxurious homes, and God knows what else. At a minimum, that’s curious.
The fact that Blazer even exists raises a few suspicions that someone(s) was either derelict in their duties or simply looking the other way as Chuck blazed his way through budgets, secret meetings, and everything else in his gravitational pull. Within a relatively impoverished U.S. soccersphere, this obese man ate nothing but the finest edibles as he rolled from restaurant to restaurant on a motorized scooter living lavishly as fuck. This is a man who, for years, worked with Sunil Gulati, a Columbia University economics professor, at USSF — someone who must be at least a bit capable of adding up a few numbers.
Neither Gulati nor U.S. Soccer has much to say about the Blazer affair, or most scandalous affairs for that matter, yet claim to champion “transparency and change” at the highest levels of the game. Yet we’re outraged at Qatar. OUTRAGED. Is it really that hard to see how Qatar might be all “go fuck yourself” when “the West” shows up with integrity amnesia, acting like it’s going to save everyone? Being outraged for being raked over the coals after watching decades of others living lavishly off of back-room shadiness with little fear of prosecution or global ridicule isn’t really that illogical.
And that’s the crux of a potentially real racism claim — a claim that we see many places in society. Those in traditional positions of power often act behind closed doors however they see fit, ignoring transparency and atrocity with abandon. But when an outsider comes to the table and potentially engages in aggressive Chuck Blazering, suddenly something is very rotten in Denmark. Suddenly, U.S. soccer is vocal about reform. Suddenly, the entire Western world is fixated on Qatar’s awfulness.
Neither of these points needs to invalidate the other. Qatar’s alleged wrong-doing doesn’t invalidate the idea that the global soccer community acts like a bully who’s finally getting a taste of his own medicine. Qatar’s potential wrong-doing also doesn’t eliminate the need to explore an infrastructure that provided a horribly non-transparent platform for a problematic bid.
At some point, though, you have to take a moment to laugh at a soccer establishment now hell-bent on reform and seemingly pumped full of performance-enhancing morality. The timing is curious. Now, that may or may not be racism, and Qatar, Blatter & Co. may be playing politics, but whatever it is, it isn’t hard to be cynical about the notion that fairness, propriety and social justice are the cornerstones of the global Qatar fixation. Why? Because most of the complaining national federations never actually really cared about any of that stuff. Not publicly like this. That is, not until the West was finally “robbed” of their World Cups.