With World Cup 2022 dominating opinion columns and threatening to destabilize a competition still nine years away from us, the World Cup has never faced such an uncertain future. With the embers still warm from the fires that accompanied the Brazilian riots this summer, even the once untarnishable brand of the franchise is looking weathered, as slowly the media’s coverage associates it more and more with corruption, profiteering and civil meltdown. If the present appears overcast, the future looks downright bleak for a tournament usually so warmly anticipated for a host of sporting, cultural and economic perks.
Perhaps though, instead of all the gloom, the authorities should look at the reasons to be positive about Brazil and Qatar. At least those responsible for keeping order have a fairly accurate idea of what they’re likely to be up against and can plan accordingly. The Confederations Cup has shown FIFA a retina-scorching glimmer of what’s to come in 2014 – a bucket load of bad publicity, gross public unrest and perhaps a handful of unlucky martyrs fighting domestic injustice in Brazil — is unlikely to leave a mark on either the governing body’s good reputation or conscience, principally because there’s very little factual evidence for the existence of either. The country will likely revolt but the FIFA Executive Committee PR machine will confidently churn out just the right sound-bites to deflect the brunt of the attention to the Brazilian political and economic leaders, which is probably where it has belonged right from the start. So that’s one reason to be cheerful at FIFA HQ.
In Qatar, there will be an equally choral organized mass movement to resist in the form of the major European league bodies when the tournament is inevitably shifted into the uncharted territory of the winter months, but that battle won’t be fought with sticks, stones and barricades – more likely with an entourage of solicitors and legal loopholes as the various parties try and grind each other in to the dirt through the international courts. Neither will be causing too many sleepless nights in Zurich, where whitewashing public outcry with bellicose propaganda and shredding formal opposition with spirit-crunching legal attrition is old hat. But what of 2018, and Russia?
As Vladimir Putin continues apace, his iron fisted crusade against cultural variance — the LGBT community — have become the most conspicuous target for public humiliation. Meanwhile in the major European cities the murmurings about gay representation in professional sport are growing louder. Spot the link? As the game’s governors pat themselves on the back over limp reforms of the disciplinary process to deal with racial abuse on the pitch, the questions over why the world of professional football counts among its number only three openly gay members aren’t going to go away. With the issue a slow burner – the hesitancies that keep scores in the closet surely also holding back many would-be vocal lobbyists for change from really launching the debate – what odds it comes to the boil just as the world turns its gaze to Putin’s ferociously anti-queer autocracy in five years’ time?