The Tragedy of Brazil

Autocracy taints Brazil’s beautiful game, and the world’s joy in watching it.

The chatter surrounding the World Cup — sorry, the FIFA World Cup — has largely centered on the corruption and absurdity of holding the tournament in the dead of winter in the obscenely rich (and just plain obscene) autocracy of Qatar.

Whether Qatar is an improvement over the 2018 host, Russia, is open to debate. But the Qatari regime’s attempt at “sportwashing,” like that of many an Olympic host before it, may be backfiring by casting a glaring light on the country’s ghastliness for Western viewers who previously might not even have known Qatar was a country. The relentless PSAs that the Qatari government has been running during commercial breaks are not helping.

(Meanwhile, Russia’s team has been banned entirely this time around, owing to a certain unpleasantness unfolding in Ukraine. FIFA getting on its high horse over Putin’s misdeeds is rather rich, and largely a self-serving PR gesture, even if it was still the right thing to do.)

Soccer, of course, is the least of it when it comes to the West’s relationship with the repressive regimes of the Middle East, as Tom McTague astutely summarized in a recent piece for The Atlantic:

Qatar hosting the soccer World Cup is like Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. It should not have happened, but the very fact that it has only exposes how bad things have become.

Underlying the shame of the World Cup in Qatar and the petrostate ownership of European soccer is this banal reality: These states are our diplomatic and commercial allies. We in the West not only accept their money for our sports teams, but we buy their fossil fuels and in return sell them arms. And we seal the deal by placing our hands on weird glowing orbs in the desert to profess our friendship. To expect sports to act as some honorable exception while the rest of society is trying to make as much money as possible — regardless of the morality or long-term security of their countries — is ridiculous.

Or to put it another way, in the blunt words of my friend Tom Hall of The Back Row Manifesto, a far more knowledgeable and fanatic soccer buff than I, “I don’t know why everything has to have the joy sucked out of it by corrupt greedy…

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Robert Edwards / The King's Necktie

Writer, filmmaker, and veteran — blogging at The King’s Necktie @TheKingsNecktie