FIFA president Gianni Infantino feels the pain of Qatar’s slave workers, prosecuted homosexuals and unloved disabled people.
In his speech on the eve of the World Cup, Mr Infantino ascribed that empathy to his own experience of egregious suffering: “As a child I was bullied because I had red hair…”
Mercifully, as the photo on the left suggests, that pain didn’t persist into Mr Infantino’s adulthood. However, in spite of the shared experience of woe, he felt obliged to vouchsafe to his listeners the helpful information that: “I am not Qatari, Arab, African, gay, disabled or a migrant worker.” Could have fooled me.
Having clarified his identity, Mr Infantino got to the point. The point is that Western football players and administrators who bellyache about the abuse of human rights in Qatar are being hypocritical.
When I read that, I cracked a smile of recognition. Here was a kindred soul, a man as disgusted as I am at the signalling of woke virtue that has attracted the divided attention of so many ball-kickers and their managers.
Driven by the commercial prods wielded by their agents and PR consultants, footballers parlay their fame based on expertise in one narrow area into a presumed right to pontificate on every faddish theme they fancy. Strikers come out in support of Black Lives Matter. Defenders lecture ministers on racism. Midfielders champion LGBT rights.
As a direct result, their following on social and other media goes through the roof, as do their endorsement opportunities and the size of their contracts. PR chaps and agents are happy, while the ball-kickers joyously launch themselves into photo ops and public engagements, even if that reduces their time on the training pitch.
Qatar, whose selection as a World Cup venue pushed corruption in sport beyond its already cosmic level, provides a useful focus for exertions of remunerative social conscience. It’s a country ruled by Sharia law that takes a dim view of such icons of our modern morality as buggery and equal rights of men and women to have abortions.
Also, since Qatar isn’t known as the hub of the world’s football activity, it had no stadiums in which to hold the event. And neither could the World Cup be held in summer, the traditional season. Summer temperatures in Qatar reach 50C, which would have turned matches into bowling alleys, with the players as ninepins.
The second problem was solved by moving the Cup to colder months. And modern stadiums had to be built in record time, a task for which native Qataris lacked both skills and numbers. The problem was solved by importing migrant workers, whose working conditions made them differ from slave labourers only legally but not substantively.
Many died in the process, with the exact number either uncounted or at least unreported. At a guess, it was somewhere between the 37 that the Qatari government acknowledges and the 30,000 serfs who died constructing Petersburg’s hideous St Isaac’s Cathedral in the mid-nineteenth century.
All things considered, sniping at Qatar’s human rights record from the commanding height of Western probity tinged with wokery is almost unsporting. It’s like using high-calibre machine guns to spray the woods crawling with wild boar.
The best way to express revulsion at Qatar’s inhuman practices would have been to decline participation in the World Cup. The world of sport has boycotted major sporting events, such as Olympics, for similar reasons before. So why not this time?
Conversely, if football federations or their employees have no guts or desire to do that, their only other decent option is to shut up and play footie, while respecting the laws of the host country. No matter how reprehensible these may be.
The England team doesn’t have to go as far as did their ancestors at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when our players greeted Hitler with the Nazi salute. All that’s required now is passive acquiescence, not active endorsement.
No rainbow armbands, for example, and ideally no genuflecting in commemoration of a drug-addled career criminal killed in a scuffle with the police. Yet even this seems to be beyond our ball-kickers who like taking their social conscience all the way to the bank, and from there to Bentley and Lamborghini dealerships.
Long story short, Mr Infantino’s charge of hypocrisy is irrefutable. When reading it, I was about to applaud, but then my palms stopped in mid-air. For he proceeded to illustrate one of my pet ideas, that it’s not enough to say the right things. One must also say them for the right reasons, which Mr Infantino’s aren’t.
“I think,” he went on to say, “for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
Mr Infantino must be commended for being able to think on such a lofty historical scale. He starts from the period when the Celts were the dominant European tribe and sweeps over 6,000 years from there.
By the middle of that timeline, Europeans had committed their full complement of atrocities, which now leaves them another 3,000 years to indulge in penitentiary rites. Yet the previous 3,000 years have invalidated any moral judgement any European can ever make.
Finding something morally wrong with, say, cannibalism or Russian brutality or, more to the point in this context, the throwing of homosexuals off tall buildings and the stoning of adulterers is preempted by Mr Infantino’s take on European history.
He didn’t specify the exact crimes committed during that awful period, but there is no need. The mantra is guaranteed to be the same as that mouthed by all progressive people everywhere: colonialism, homophobia, misogyny, slavery – you’ve seen that hymn sheet enough times not to need me to sing from it.
Well, I’m not about to apologise for the millennia during which the greatest civilisation known to man was created. Instead, I’m proud to be part of it.
But there is something I would like to apologise for: my own spineless hypocrisy. Even though I find the whole World Cup show quite disgusting (and made even more so by Mr Infantino’s remarks), I’ll still be watching many matches, including all involving England.
I wish I had the courage of my former colleague who announced on social media his decision to boycott this World Cup – but I’m honest enough to admit that I don’t. So I’ll leave you here: England vs Iran will be kicking off shortly.