Are you going to watch the World Cup? | Mark Perryman and Joanna Cannon

‘How do you solve a problem like Qatar?’ Even Julie Andrews singing it might not be a terrace anthem just yet, but it’s certainly what fans and non-fans alike have been pondering over the past few years – a debate that’s set to come to a head (sic) in the future. opening of the tournament next Sunday.

Treating Qatar as the last World Cup to be used as a political platform, and observing that there is nothing unusual about it, would be a start.

At the 1934 World Cup in Italy, Mussolini’s blackshirts explicitly used the Italian national team to bolster support for fascism, winning their home tournament and winning again in France four years later, the first team to win an away World Cup.

Harold Wilson said after England won in 1966: “Did you notice that we only win the World Cup under a Labor government? It was an old Labor pledge that has stood the test of time, the more that is a shame. In 1973, the Soviet team was expelled from the tournament for refusing to participate in a qualifying play-off against Chile following Pinochet’s coup. Chile, on the other hand, was welcomed in last place. Or Putin’s last tournament, the World Cup, just four years after his annexation – that is, invasion – of Crimea, while this time all Russian participation was banned.

Qatar uses and abuses the World Cup – it always has been. This is the downside of football as a truly global sport. Yes, rugby (both versions) and cricket (all versions) have their world cups, but they’re not really global, are they? These are fundamentally empire framed sports, with the odd other international hangers that can score upsets but never come remotely close to the final stages of the tournament. The winners of the FIFA World Cup are also a select few from Europe and South America, but the teams that qualify for the semi-finals and quarter-finals come from every continent, from every corner of the world. world. It’s the good side, a World Cup as a celebration of popular internationalism.

I’m lucky to have played as an England fan in four World Cups, including the first in Asia, Japan and South Korea 2002, and the first in Africa, South Africa 2010. Regardless – well, actually, it bothers me a lot – that England didn’t come close to lifting the trophy, the experience was unforgettable.

Yes, it’s a privileged party but being there is also inextricably linked, despite misunderstandings and differences, to what we share as visitors with our hosts, the love of football. This is what Qatar should be: the first World Cup in the Middle East, good; the first in a predominantly Muslim country, fine. But of course, we all know it won’t be about that – and it’s a huge, barely acknowledged loss.

To boycott or not to boycott? Let’s be brutally honest: that’s a non-question. England emerge in ignominy from the group stage and the boycott will be unstoppable. Wales advance triumphantly to the knockout stages and there is a tidal wave of Welsh solidarity with their side. Because at the end of the day, for the next four weeks, all moral gymnastics can be reduced to four words. I like football, not Fifa.

Mark Perryman is the author of books including Ingerland: journey with a football nation

No. “Looking at him would make me complicit. Passive approver of homophobia’

I support football. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, when I sat in front Game of the day every Saturday night with my grandfather. I’ve been a lifelong Liverpool fan and spend my weekends (and many weeknights) shouting and arguing with a TV. When the World Cup rolls around there are dizzying levels of anticipation and by this point I’m usually ready and set, with the rest of my life smartly reorganized around a very crowded fixture list.

This time, however, I decided not to watch.

I never would have imagined saying this, but with Fifa opting to host the tournament in Qatar (a move that Arsenal and England striker Beth Mead euphemistically describes as “disappointing”), I have no other option. In Qatar, homosexuality is illegal and was recently described by Qatar’s World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman as “damaging the mind”. More than that, under strict Sharia law, anyone “engaging in homosexuality” risks being fined, imprisoned or even executed. Qatar’s human rights record is abysmal. Women’s rights, freedom of expression and assembly are all suppressed by Qatari regulations, while Amnesty International continues to press for fair treatment of migrant workers (the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers have died since Qatar won the right to host in 2010 – a figure officials bizarrely describe as “misleading”). The competition’s organizers say everyone is welcome to attend the games, but with its general manager, Nasser al-Khater, adding that any visitors must “respect our culture”.

I respect and admire many things about Islamic culture. But not that. Watching would make me an accomplice. Passive approver of homophobia and misogyny. How can I watch a tournament held in a country where some of my friends are facing the death penalty, just for living their lives quietly and peacefully. I support football, but more importantly, I support the idea of ​​a life free from fear, violence and discrimination.

Many, including Piers Morgan, suggest we should “just enjoy football” and sport shouldn’t be political. But it’s all political (the fact that Qatar, the “richest country in the world”, managed to become the host is a huge political statement in itself).

Others have suggested the pledge ‘highlights the issues’, a clumsy defense used by World Cup commentator Gary Neville when he was recently so exquisitely challenged by Ian Hislop on do i have any news for you. No, Gary. You can highlight the issue without sitting in a comment box with a big paycheck in your back pocket. Most people believe watching or not watching won’t make a difference, but if you think you’re too small to count, “try sleeping with a mosquito,” as the Dalai Lama says.

Moreover, I strongly believe that it is the small decisions we make, whether we look or turn away, whether we speak or remain silent, it is the decisions that make us who we are. Especially when no one ever sees these decisions except ourselves. So the next few weeks, at least for me, will be without football. Will anyone care what I do? I doubt. But if we all made this small change, if we all decided not to watch, what a very big difference it would be.

Joanna Cannon’s latest novel is A neat ending

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