Guest blogger Adam Lanigan is in a quandary – with a football-loving son, the World Cup should be joyful. But the behind-the-scenes issues means it’s not that simple.
Everyone remembers the first men’s World Cup which left an impression on them. Mine was Italia ’90. I distinctly remember Gary Lineker’s penalties to beat Cameroon and then bawling my eyes out when Paul Gascoigne cried and England subsequently lost on penalties to West Germany in the semi-final. Those four weeks in the summer of 1990 crystallised my love of football, which has now lasted for over three decades and has allowed me to attend some of the biggest matches possible, both as a football supporter and a football reporter.
With age and the passing of time, that enthusiasm of youth wanes a little, but my feelings for this forthcoming World Cup are downright cold. Why? Well, the process of how Qatar was awarded this event basically stinks. A country with little football culture, no stadia and barely any hotel beds to welcome the huge number of visitors expected. And then we get on to the serious stuff – the tournament moved from its traditional June/July slot because it is too hot, but only four years after the bid was won when it was obvious a desert country like Qatar would be unsuitable. And then the most serious stuff of all – the lack of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights in the country and the appalling treatment of workers in the construction of the vast building projects required to get this event off the ground. The numbers of deaths of workers involved can be debated, but these people, largely drawn from the Indian sub-continent, have had to work in appallingly hot conditions day-after-day in the burning sun with little shade. I remember a stopover I made in nearby Dubai a number of years ago when you struggled to manage a walk outside of your hotel because of the sweltering heat (in May) and felt sorry for those having to work on construction sites around the Emirate.
Against this backdrop, footballers from 32 countries have gathered for what is supposed to be a celebration of the beautiful game. When Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi or Harry Kane score a goal in one of these futuristic stadiums, it will be difficult to not think of those labourers who toiled away to build them. Maybe the joy of seeing a goal – one of the most simple but pleasurable things in life – won’t have the same meaning over the next four weeks.
That brings me on to the biggest issue I face as regards my role as a dad. My son, Tom, now four and in his first year at school, loves football. We have a small net in the garden and he has football training every Saturday morning. Without doubt, that is the easiest day of the week to get him up and out of the house! He has a frightening memory for footballers’ names and faces and those of the teams he watches. Together we love watching Match of the Day and recreating what we see, just as I did with my dad and older brothers all those years ago. I am certain he would love watching the World Cup as a mention of the countries and players involved immediately sparked his interest. But I can’t decide whether that is the right thing to do, or not.
There is a World Cup sticker book in the cupboard that I acquired a few weeks ago. I have kept it up my sleeve for good behaviour or a particular moment, but I have not opened it yet and the stickers remain in their packets. In my opinion, the way to punish FIFA and Qatar for the way in how this World Cup is conceived is to ignore it. FIFA makes money by selling television and radio rights for billions of pounds to broadcasters like BBC and ITV. But if people don’t watch, the product loses its worth. Millions of people switching off would be a mass sign of discontent.
However, is that going to happen? Extremely unlikely. And if I keep the football turned off for the next month, is that an unfair punishment for my son? Can I deny his innocent love of football because of my own unhappiness about Qatar? The beauty of the World Cup is seeing teams from all over the world play against each other who would never normally meet – England versus Iran, Germany against Japan, Netherlands and Senegal. People who look different and believe in different things but united by a ball and two sets of goalposts in the most brilliantly simple game. Go anywhere around the planet and kicking a football around is the best and most effective way to break down barriers in terms of language, culture or religion.
It is the first World Cup where I can properly watch with Tom, and yet it leaves me this quandary. Am I being a bad dad if I stop him watching and deny him an innocent, special experience? Or am I a bad parent if I allow him to watch, almost turning a blind eye to the events that have led to this tournament in the first place? I am not sure there is a right answer. I just wish such a simple game had not turned into such a complicated conundrum.