Not so long ago, many Americans had probably never heard of Qatar, but New Orleans had a connection.
Drive along the Pontchartrain Expressway, and you can’t miss Xavier University’s Qatar Pharmacy Pavilion, which was donated after Katrina. So you probably looked it up and don’t need me to tell you that Qatar could afford to be generous, being the richest country, per capita, in the world.
There aren’t, admittedly, all that many capita; the population is about 2 million, most of them foreigners. It runs pretty much as you would expect from a Persian Gulf monarchy, its laws largely informed by Sharia and its human rights record abominable.
Qatar swam into the ken of such Americans who have figured out the appeal of watching soccer when it was selected to host the World Cup in summer 2022. Now that the feds have thrown the world of soccer into disarray by indicting a slew of its top administrators, the name of Qatar is, if not exactly on everyone’s lips, suddenly familiar in this country.
It was five years ago that FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, tapped Qatar for the big games. At the same time, the 2018 tournament was awarded to that other bastion of liberty and democracy, Russia.
Because there were no rational grounds for selecting either country and the first thing any soccer-mad kid in Europe learns at his father’s knee is that the game is run by crooks, nobody needed to waste any time wondering how it came about. It was universally taken for granted that Russia and Qatar won because the competition was outbribed. Newspaper investigations confirmed that FIFA officials were open to the highest bidder.
Mohammed bin Hamman, of Qatar, was so blatantly crooked that even FIFA had to affect disapproval, kicking him off its executive committee and banning him from soccer for life in 2012.
Yet, law enforcement in Europe — FIFA is headquartered in Zurich — looked serenely on after the choice of Qatar and Russia as World Cup hosts proved to universal satisfaction that soccer had become a global racket.
Russia, at least, has produced accomplished soccer players and enjoyed some success in the international arena. But Qatar has never qualified to play in the World Cup and has never been of any account in what, after all, started as an English winter sport and is an odd fit in the desert. Because World Cups always have been played in the summer and players and spectators likely would haul off and die in the Qatar heat, FIFA was prevailed upon to switch the 2022 games to the winter.
That did not do any good for the workers Qatar needed to build stadiums and other facilities. Qatar, true to form, housed migrants from India, Nepal and Bangladesh in unspeakable conditions and worked them to death.
That’s literally to death. Hundreds, maybe more, have perished. But the rulers of Qatar are beginning to show a liberal side and have said the ban on alcohol will be relaxed in fan zones during the World Cup. It remains doubtful that Doha will be a good place for a night out, however.
Meanwhile, FIFA and Qatar, as champions of the downtrodden are wont to do, donated millions to Bill Clinton’s foundation.
Although the Swiss authorities are now investigating the Russia and Qatar World Cups, it is apparent that the spur to action came from the FBI, which flipped FIFA’s top man in America, Chuck Blazer, in 2011. Blazer, who ran the show in the Americas and the Caribbean and is credited with boosting soccer’s following on this side of the Atlantic, copped a plea in secret and evidently did a bang-up job ratting out other members of the gang, whose global frauds involved bank transactions.
So it seems that America has rescued soccer from FIFA. A more unlikely savior could hardly be imagined for, though soccer may be gaining some popularity, the prevailing view here is that watching it is a bore. In Europe, where the stupid American is a favorite conceit, it is widely believed that soccer is too subtle for us.
Anyone who has attended a soccer game in, say, England, may be forgiven for failing to notice the superior intellect of the fans.
Still, soccer is far and away the most popular game everywhere save here. Can America be right and the rest of the world wrong?
Yes, we say. That was certainly the case with FIFA. So soccer fans will be raising a toast to the yanks right now. Well, not in Qatar.
James Gill’s email address is email@example.com.