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A great World Cup, but it was still tarnished

Having written about the tournament as it unfolded, now that the dust has settled, here’s my take on the event overall…

Greg Devine


Football being played in a stadium

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So, Argentina became the champions. In the process, they created a fairy-tale ending to Lionel Messi’s World Cup career. It arguably cemented him as the greatest player of all time, having finally won the greatest sporting competition on the planet with his national side.

However, despite some fantastic games and probably the best final I’ve ever seen, the event in Qatar still feels somewhat tarnished.

Photo by Tasnim News Agency
Photo by Tasnim News Agency

The final was graced by the current greatest players in the world. Messi was breath-taking but so was Mbappe. The latter’s hattrick in the final was the first the tournament had encountered since 1966, in which Sir Geoff Hurst won the competition for England. Both Argentina and France could have easily won the 2022 final, but missed opportunities and crucial saves meant the game went to penalties. The resulting shootout saw Argentina victorious and captain Messi lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Even this act proved controversial. Qatar, once again, stole the headlines for the wrong reasons. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, draped a traditional cloak known as a ‘bisht’ over the Argentinian captain. It covered most of Messi’s shirt, including his badge, which, for many, is a symbol of pride. There are two ways this could be interpreted. One, as a gesture of goodwill—the king of football wearing a cloak typically worn by royalty. Alternatively, others felt that Qatar were making sure they were not forgotten, and the draping of the cloak was simply a bid to steal some of the limelight in what should have been Messi and Argentina’s moment. Social media seemed to be divided on the issue; some people saw the cloak as a sign of respect whilst others slammed it as ‘sport washing’ or a political statement.

BBC pundit Pablo Zabaleta, who played for the Argentinian national team before he retired, also questioned the gesture. ‘Just why?’ he said. ‘There’s no reason to do that.’ Host Gary Lineker added that it was ‘a shame they’ve covered his shirt’ during what should have been ‘a magic moment’.

The ending of the Qatari World Cup courted almost as much controversy as it began with. The tournament itself was great; in truth, Qatar did a good job hosting the tournament, but there was just too much darkness surrounding it. Surely migrant workers’ deaths cannot be brushed under the carpet. The number of contractors that died whilst building the stadiums needed for the event is still unknown, and it will probably remain that way. Some say around three people died, which is shocking enough; however, I’ve seen much higher figures than this. Without confirmation from an official source, who can say? Qatar should never have been awarded the tournament in the first place. It screams of corruption, which investigations are still hoping to prove.

Qatar tried to appease the public across the globe with their ideas around sustainability. Stadium 974 was a completely temporary stadium. It was intended to be dismantled as soon as the tournament ended, with a possibility that it could be relocated elsewhere. It was almost entirely built from shipping containers that held amenities such as concession stands and toilets. The plan was certainly a good one for the planet, and it negated the issues host countries usually have, where millions are spent on stadiums just for them to be abandoned once a tournament ends. Qatar certainly showed innovation and initiative; however, their environmental commitments didn’t even dent the controversies of the competition.

I really enjoyed the 2022 World Cup, despite thinking I wouldn’t. At heart, I’m a football fan. And that’s what Qatar exploited…people’s love for football. 

Though England didn’t win, I still admire the team Southgate has curated. I saw Messi do things no other footballer has done at the same age. I can see the next world-class player in Mbappe, and let’s not forget England’s Jude Bellingham. What’s imperative is that we don’t let the fantastic game play of the tournament detract from the atrocities surrounding it. The event should prove a catalyst for significant institutional change within FIFA and other bodies; unfortunately, I can’t see this happening.

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