By Tony Attwood
There is an article in the Irish Times about Qatar, which unfortunately is behind a paywall, which says in passing, “That uncanny sense of fakeness is everywhere. Walking around some of its more extravagant manifestations, like the endless empty white halls of the upper floors of the Place Vendôme mall, or the Lusail towers containing apartments that nobody lives in, or the imitation-tent edifice of Al Bayt Stadium rising up pointlessly out of the desert of Al Khor, you keep wondering the same thing: why? Why have they built this? Who is it for? What was the point?”
“Worker exploitation is the most persistent and most legitimate criticism of the Qatar project, and the inequality that follows from the labour system is the ugliest aspect of daily life in the country. Why was this necessary?”
The answer, the writer argues, is simply to show off. As in, “We can build more utterly pointless buildings than you can.” And, “We can exploit more poor foreign workers more extensively than you can.”
Although there is another explanation and that is that it was all done because Fifa wants to be in control: Qatar was simply the mechanism for Fifa to say, “It is not about your Premier League. We can make your Premier League stop if we want. Look we’ve just done it. We can take your players and injure them and not pay compensation. Look, it is all about us.”
This is in fact the real battle. Fifa vs the leagues. And behind the scenes, there is a second battle as the clubs like Manchester City and Newcastle United are taken over by people who have no football heritage and know precious little about the game either as parts of sporting groups – or as the foundation of new sporting groups.
Those with the money see something which involves lots of power and go and play the game through building bigger grounds and buying bigger clubs. (Being an atheist I would also argue that this is what happened with the big religions: the desire through mediaeval times (for example) to build ever bigger churches and cathedrals, not so much because the fundamentals of the religion says believers should, but simply as an expression of power. None of this, I would say, is new).
In essence, all this is about is very rich people wanting to show other very rich people that they can spend more money than their rivals.
And they play this game at a time when ten per cent of the world’s population is literally starving.
It is in fact just about the most obscene way of saying, in terms of what is going on in the world, “we’ve got the money and we really don’t care”.
Of course, meanwhile, Fifa demands that it be in control, so it proclaims it has the absolute right to take whatever players it needs from whichever clubs it fancies, for its latest escapades. (I am yet again reminded of Wenger’s wonderful statement that Fifa is like a car thief who steals your car, wrecks it, gives it back to you and demands you have it repaired and ready for next time).
And having just done that with an enlarged world cup it is now planning to hold the world cup every three years instead of every four years. This will, of course, disrupt the Premier League still further – not just because of the increased regularity of the finals, but the squeezing together of the qualifying rounds.
That will put pressure on Uefa who, being as corrupt as Fifa (see the manipulation of the enquiry into the chaos of the Paris Champs League final) will certainly not stand aside as Fifa marches on.
And what happens then? More players get more injuries. And to compensate for that Premier League clubs will demand the right to have bigger squads. Which will in turn squeeze good players out of the Championship and into the expanded Premier League squads.
And is a voice to be raised against this? No of course not. Because running a Premier League club is not about winning things, it is about making money for the empire. And because running a TV or radio station or newspaper or commercial blog is about making money.
Of course, the ultimate power does still exist with the fans. Turn off the TV and go and watch your local team in person, and that challenges the system. Follow Arsenal on TV.
Meanwhile, stop buying the shirt, and make a note of every sponsor of and advertiser with the club, and instead of buying their goods deliberately choose not to buy their goods and services.
Don’t use a Visa credit card. Don’t drink Budweiser or Coca Cola. Don’t fly Qatar airways. Don’t eat Macdonalds.
The power each of us has is tiny, but if you have any concern about what Fifa is, you do have a chance to use that power, small though it is. And if you want to see how quickly major firms can become disinterested in football try having a look at Why is it so difficult to find a sponsor for a new stadium?
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