Live soccer is hard enough to watch at the best of times. But sober? And playing it in stadiums built on the corpses of slave labour?
n 1974, Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of Zaire, bought the Ali v Foreman heavyweight championship fight for $12million. Mobutu, a sadist and mass murderer, wanted to clean up his regime’s image. Before the fight in Kinshasa, he rounded up 100 local men with criminal records and executed them in the bowels of the stadium. A warning to his people to send out the right message when the world’s media arrived. Be nice. Say nice things.
It’s reported 6,500 migrant workers have died constructing Qatar’s World Cup Disneyland, with pay averaging 40c an hour. The regime has spent $229billion on this tournament. The second highest ever spend on a World Cup was Brazil in 2014, who spent $19bn. The Qatar authority has not done this because it loves the beautiful game.
Last month, Human Rights Watch documented the latest round of terror against Qatari’s haunted, underground LGBTQ community. It is a dystopian, terrifying world, straight from an Orwellian novel. Qatar’s morality police hunt gay and transgender people down as though they were a terrorist organisation. Suspects are arrested and taken to an underground torture centre in Al Dafneh, Doha.
Under Qatari Law No 17 of 2002 Protection of Community, a suspected LGBTQ person can be detained without charge or access to legal representation for up to six months. So, the morality police have free rein to torture them. They access their phones and laptops and use those details to track down other suspected LGBTQ people. They are subjected to sickening abuses. Transgender women are accused of the offence of “imitating women”.
In September, Human Rights Watch reported that one woman was beaten until her face was bleeding and fractured. She was blindfolded and assaulted until she lost consciousness. When she came to, she was in a large concrete prison-type building, where she was forced to watch other gay and trans suspects being beaten before being questioned. Another was detained for two months in solitary confinement, beaten every day, shaved bald and sexually assaulted. No record is kept of these detentions. If they die during the torture, it’s no big deal.
The suspects are only released when they sign a guarantee not to “violate public morality” and agree to attend conversion therapy. Most of the report’s contents are too distressing to repeat here.
Roy Keane was universally applauded last week for saying on television that “the World Cup shouldn’t be here”. Yet, there he is, at the World Cup. It shows you how successful the Qatari’s sportswashing mission is that after his few words, Roy is being talked about as though he were Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. Like the English captain, Harry Kane, who bravely decided not to wear an LGBTQ armband after being threatened with a yellow card, Roy decided to take the money and be a good boy.
And why not, when his old Manchester United teammates are doing the same? Poor old David Beckham has, as my granny Brolly used to say, the brains of a frog and fewer principles. For $200m over 10 years, he has become the Qataris’ poodle; smiling, posting heart-warming pics with the Sheikhs and getting a nice doggy treat when he is a good doggy. The only thing missing is the leash.
Gary Neville, meanwhile, is in Qatar courtesy of Qatari state-owned broadcaster beIN. When he appeared recently on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You, he asked Ian Hislop (referring to football): “Is it coming home?” Hislop said: “What, your reputation?” Neville, used to being hero-worshipped, was stunned. He gibbered a bit about going there “to highlight the issues”. Hislop said: “The other option is to stay at home and highlight their horrific abuses. You didn’t have to take the Qataris’ money. It is just not a very good defence.” Gary was unable to form a response, managing to get the words, “There’s …” out before coming to a standstill, so guest panellist Richard Madley chipped in, “It’s unbelievable. It’s all about money Gary, about mainline celebrities going over there for huge cheques. I don’t know what’s happened to people.”
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, is Saudi’s ambassador, signing up to a reported $25m a year. Ever since, he has been telling his almost 400 million social media followers what a wonderful place it is. Which it is, unless you are gay, trans, intellectual, a reformer, a woman, a social-justice activist, or a journalist. In which case, you are likely to become one of the disappeared or, if you are lucky, be tortured and let go. But, hey, they gave Lionel a lovely yacht and those sunsets are amazing from the deck.
The pathetic truth is that these regimes know that they can buy humans. They know that activism has been more or less crushed by capitalism. They have bought up the media and governments and Fifa. The anchors and pundits are all part of the same hypocrisy, so all they had to do was start the tournament with a few sugary words about gays. With their embarrassment cured, they could go on to “concentrate on the football” which “unites us all”.
The Qatar authority hasn’t left anything to chance. In the run-up to the tournament, they recruited and contracted 40 supporters from each of the 32 qualifying teams. Each of the 1,280 people chosen signed a binding contract (drafted and overseen by lawyers) which included a term obliging them to “deliver positive messages about being in Qatar, to sing songs as directed and to respond to social media posts critical of Qatar’s World Cup as directed”. The contract, which specifies how they must dress, also contains the following clause: “You will be expected to stand up, sing the song, chant, wave your flags. Be ready in your shirt, flags and scarves to cheer and shout. To be clear, that is shout. Not weep, or scream, or (my favourite bit) collapse into a slough of melancholy.”
In return, each of the signatories received flights, match tickets, accommodation and $100 per day spending money.
These fans sold their souls for just $100 a day. Becks, Neville and our Roy must be pissing themselves at that.