My Qatar Silently Weeps

Visit Qatar’s shiny new website and it states that every visit to Qatar starts with a feeling. Boy, have they got that right. 

Feelings have been somewhat on public display since the World Cup circus rolled into the Emirate last week. While diehard travelling soccer fans will no doubt be enjoying the glow of warmth the State tourist site promises, others are getting overheated about the morality of holding the tournament in what they regard as a deeply repressive country.

The original thinking behind the Qataris hosting the FIFA World Cup would seem to make sense – sort of. This tiny state, the size of Yorkshire (and not Wales for a change) holds the world’s third largest natural gas reserves. It’s also not short on oil. But fossil fuel, unlike football, is not a long term game. 

So, for the relatively small outlay of $220 billion – or about the same as the NHS costs a year – plus a bit for FIFA officials, they’ve invested in making their country a destination sporting and tourist venue.

So far, so far-thinking – if you overlook the dire conditions the almost entirely offshore workforce has had to endure to create the sparkling stadia and statement edifices. The question is though, while the same people who cheerfully travel to Dubai, Oman and the like for some Winter sun, warm sea and lots of bling will lap up the Qatari offer, will international sports people really travel to run, jump and throw things in the Hades-like heat of the place?

What the World Cup has brought to bear is the unstoppable force of liberal Western values hurtling towards the immovable object of draconian Middle Eastern Sharia laws. “No matter what tribe you’re from, you’re welcome… find beauty in our differences…” purred Morgan Freeman at the glitzy-but-slightly-weird opening ceremony. 

Welcome – just so long as you’re not from the LGBTQ tribe presumably. Or someone who enjoys alcoholic drinks. Jews, too, might feel less than comfortable with Freeman’s mellow incantation that “we are gathering here as one big tribe…the earth is the tent we all live in…”

Well and truly inside the Qatari tent, peering out, is one, D Beckham. There is much speculation that the Qatari sun isn’t reflecting quite as brightly on his polished gay icon persona following his trousering a reported £150 million for his endorsement of the rabidly anti gay regime.
If you want to see what a £150m fee buys you, look at this and try hard not to laugh. And don’t think about leaving a review. Comments are switched off.
Joe Lycett’s shredding stunt (IT WASN’T REAL MONEY, OK?) in protest at Beckham will have hurt. Or maybe £150m inures you to that sort of sting?

Other shiny brands like the BBC and Gary Lineker have also been tarnished by the Qatari association – albeit for totally opposite reasons. In the Beeb’s case, it’s been accused of virtue signalling and taking a rather holier-than-thou stance. Odd given Qatar is pretty much a theocracy.

It comes to something when one has to agree with Piers Morgan who pointed out that much of the virtue-signalling is rank hypocrisy given a fair few of the competing nations have their own distinctly illiberal views when it comes to homosexuality or human rights.

There appear to be few winners in the game of virtue versus vilification, and it seems nobody will come out of this first Arabic World Cup untarnished.

With one possible exception. Jack Grealish. Here’s why.  

Now there’s a reputation worth keeping.