The cursed World Cup kicks off and Qatar are in no mood to apologize

younfurl the faded summer bunting. Raise the thermostat half a notch. Soak up the yellow glow of this rectangular screen in the corner of the room. The most controversial, brutal and corrupt sporting event of the modern era is now upon us. It’s time, finally, to experience Amazing, as the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar repeatedly solicits passing traffic on the endless signs and fences that surround this city with light, transparent surfaces.

On Sunday evening, the Ecuadorian and Qatari footballers will take part in the opening match at the Al Bayt stadium. Over the next 29 days, Qatar’s eight cool arenas, gleaming glass and steel monuments to the men who died in their construction, will live out their own brief sepulchral lives before being dismantled for parts or converted in shopping centers.

England face Iran in the afternoon heat on Monday. Wales kick off against USA in the evening. Twelve years, £220billion and thousands of unexplained deaths in the works, it looks like we’re really going to be playing football after all. Welcome to the cursed World Cup.

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It’s a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has reported on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is collected on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football homepage for those who want to dig deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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It was an exhausting process to get there. Twelve years have passed since Fifa staged its double World Cup bid selection ceremony in Zurich, in an absurd and grandiose fashion. Former President Sepp Blatter seems to have sincerely believed he was going to win a Nobel Peace Prize by awarding 2018 and 2022 to Russia and the United States. Instead, from the moment Blatter opened his envelope and read the word “Qatar” hesitantly – Blatter already knew this – he lit a fuse under the Fifa mountain bunker.

Later that day, as a Cold War Steve-style montage of A-listers from Boris Johnson to Bill Clinton returned to their helicopters, Vladimir Putin appeared on stage in Zurich to deliver a triumphant press conference and unexpected. Fast forward to today and 16 of the 22 voting members of the FIFA committee as of this day have been tainted with some form of corruption, alleged or substantiated, from arrests and extradition orders, to oversights as minor as accepting a Picasso painting from the Russian bid team. then really regret it and say sorry.

Sepp Blatter (left) shakes hands with Vladimir Putin in 2010 after Russia were announced as hosts of the 2018 World Cup. Photograph: Kurt Schorrer/AP

This is the first item in the indictment of Qatar 2022, a World Cup that was essentially awarded by a toxic criminal organization. But that’s just the backstory here. The suffering of the vast migrant workforce employed to build this tournament has been widely covered in the years since. A Guardian report suggested there may have been as many as 6,500 worker-related deaths since Qatar received the World Cup.

Qatar disputes this. For a long time he put the total as low as three. Qatar has also refused to carry out proper autopsies on its undead. Various independent reports have pointed to cases of cardiac arrest due to crushing long hours in the desert heat, a workforce run on the basis of entrenched institutional racism, and truly heartbreaking details. An article in the New York Times this week reported that at least 2,100 Nepalis have died in Qatar since 2010, 200 of them by suicide.

There is a level of cognitive dissonance necessary to keep watching a show haunted by these absences. The official Qatar 2022 mascot is called La’eeb, presented as a sprite from the underworld of the mascot, and inspired by the region’s traditional white cloth headdress. Basically, La’eeb twirls around looking like a friendly, smiling ghost, presented via a hologram box on arrivals at Doha International Airport in a way that seems unintentionally poignant. Here he is, the cheeky, ghostly face of a World Cup darkened by death.

The question of why, exactly, Qatar wanted to stage this show may not have been asked enough. Qatar does not have a serious football culture. It had no infrastructure at the time and its visit is still extremely expensive.

The argument to expand the game was used by Fifa as it was ahead of the killer 1978 edition. And it is true that there is a huge hunger for football in the Middle East and the Gulf. A first-ever World Cup in the European winter is not an unreasonable demand from the rest of the world. But why not take this thing to a place where it can truly put down roots, to a developing country where Fifa’s immense wealth could be used to help build facilities that are really needed?

The term sportswashing has been a convenient, catch-all explainer, a term used to describe hardline states using sports to raise the public profile. This is of course nothing new. The FIFA World Cup has been the plaything of despots ever since there was a FIFA World Cup. Its second edition took place in the Italy of Benito Mussolini. Only the intervention of the Second World War saved us from the great lost Nazi World Cup, Germany 42.

It’s a little different. Qatar is not leading a charm offensive. Qatar has no ambition beyond its own borders. Qatar has 200 years of natural gas. He doesn’t need to be loved. Instead, this World Cup now looks like a larger national security agenda, a way to make this tiny, hyper-rich peninsula visible to the world, to become a presence on the map, to minimize its vulnerability to Status and crashes. It is hard power, security, the shifting plates of global wealth and influence.

Indeed, as the World Cup kicks off, and with Qatar’s status elevated by Europe’s energy crisis – the result of a war sparked by the host of the last World Cup – there has been a distinct hardening of attitudes, a feeling that Qatar is really not in the mood to continue apologizing.

It’s hard to avoid the feeling that Qatar was right too, that they read the way the world was turning, that disbelief at their announcement as hosts in 2010 was followed by 12 years of influence growing. And now we have this: a brutal end to the reinvention of great football as a luxury propaganda tool.

But hey, Harry Kane is in good shape. Perhaps Gareth Southgate can be lured out of his dungeon and persuaded to play a back four instead of a back five. It might even end up being a really good on-court tournament. Brazil, France and Argentina are the favorites to win, all three packed with top-notch attacking talent. England are heavy enough to go out in the group stage, but also good enough to fight their way to the end. Wales will bring vibes, collectivism and Gareth Bale, a late stage. The show will continue. And the world, as always, will be watching.

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