I love the Olympics: athletics, obviously, but there is always excitement to be found in a sport you know nothing about. Last year I watched more skateboarders than I’d be prepared to count (they fall off often, so there’s actual jeopardy). But still, it is not the World Cup.
Watching most of the world’s greatest players, often for small nations while team-mates with relative journeymen, the dazzling and packed stadiums, it is a joy. For the final time, we will see Lionel try to give Argentinians what Deigo delivered in ’86. The Greatest will fail again. Ronaldo will bring the circus and produce the final evidence of his fading talent.
Will Neymar roll around the turf after a marginal altercation? You would be disappointed otherwise. Belgium will again have everyone wondering why they have the second highest Fifa coefficient. England will ‘England it’. I would like a European winner, France or Spain, it’s all the same, and Europeans to win whenever facing others. The more European win, the more future places go to Europe. This way, those of us in small Euro nations can aspire to be back in the big time one day.
The anticipation ahead of this tournament, which starts on Sunday, is not what it has been previously. Qatar has given itself an expensive interrogation which has become more intense as the tournament approaches. A Danish TV reporter’s broadcast became a worldwide event as he was harassed during an innocuous piece. If you were Qatari, you would be entitled to ask if sportswashing was real, of just snake oil sold by elite PR agents.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino was not in place when the vote to award this and the 2018 tournament, which went to Russia, was made, that privilege went to now disgraced Sepp Blatter. Blatter was a kind of genius who understood democracy better than most. All votes count and a proliferation of the franchise among small nations, who could benefit from Fifa largesse, meant that while most of the money was still generated in Europe, power shifted away.
Despite offending many within the game, Infantino is now confirmed as the only name on the ballot when the Association determines who will be president next time. There is no point in running against him as there is no prospect of him losing.
The USA is the main host in four years, alongside Mexico and Canada, a win for CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). It was American prosecutors who opened the lid on Fifa scandals in 2015, European national associations complained of corruption, but their governments did nothing.
The scrutiny of Qatar that has built over the last four years will hopefully turn on football itself ahead of World Cup 2026. US prosecutors are hopefully not finished with the beautiful game.