I was lifting weights in the gym when a friend, who was Iranian, started talking to me. I removed my Airpods and put the weights on the rack—he speaks Indonesian, but with an accent that demanded full attention.
Usually we would be talking about Turkish history (we started talking to each other when I was in the middle of reading ‘The Crusades’ by Thomas Asbridge) or the recent Iranian Revolution. But this time we found ourselves talking about the World Cup.
“It doesn’t feel like a World Cup this time. Don’t you think?” he said.
I’ve heard this before. Probably from the voice inside my head—maybe we were all thinking about the same thing. But still, I wanted to know his opinion about it.
“Maybe because we’re old,” he laughed.
It actually feels like something different this time. But it is not because of Western criticism, or being old…
There is nothing wrong with Qatar hosting the World Cup.
Migrant worker abuse. Prohibition on Pride symbolism and One Love. Lack of sexual freedom. No beers. Just spitting the things on top of my head. While these aren’t ideal, but we also need to acknowledge that most of the things mentioned above were of Western values. While they are decent values, we must not forget that the host, Qatar, is a Muslim country with strong Muslim values and we have to respect that.
There are a great deal of evil in the world, like the unprovoked attack on Ukraine by Russia, and the brutality of the Iranian regime; standing up for your own values is not one of those evil.
There are vices, of course, like the migrant worker abuse. This, however, not so easy to criticize, because these workers were dealing directly to their contractors, so these contractors were the ones directly responsible for the treatment of the migrant workers. But this is a valid point, and as result of the criticism, Qatar’s labor laws were improved by it.
There are other criticisms, mostly environmental ones, but they were quite ridiculous, valid if it was directed to the FIFA World Cup itself rather than this edition of World Cup, these criticisms include the environmental concerns over flying teams and thousands of fans from their countries to attend the World Cup—Duh! It happens every four years!
If there is anything positive, the World Cup brought a great amount of development in Qatar. It built eight gigantic stadiums among other things. Check out the Khalifa Stadium in Doha. The Qatar 2022 World Cup is also the most expensive World Cup ever—excluding the bribes given to FIFA officials.
I don’t get the fuss. The previous host was Russia and it felt like World Cup.
Anyway, these things don’t matter. These are not the things that make this World Cup any different from the previous World Cups.
So what is different this time?
I am seeing the differences in the way the teams play. Especially lesser teams. Teams like Japan and Saudi Arabia. They gained victory over much stronger opponents, the favorites—Germany and Argentina.
I realized that as countries and cultures collide together into one melting pot, the lesser teams keep getting better. Some of the reasons would be the flow of information—previously guarded football tactics and secrets are now available in the Internet, and then there are players from these lesser countries who were playing in the top flying league like, Takumi Minamino from Japan who were playing in Liverpool F.C., which according to me (and many others) the best team in the world (you will never convince me otherwise).
It is also clear that Japan won the game against Germany through spectacular comeback from 1 – 0 because many Japanese players are currently playing in the Bundesliga. Hajime Moriyasu, the head coach said so himself.
“At the end they came at us with the full power, in the past maybe we would have lost but the players have been playing in Germany and Europe they’ve learned so much from that, so we held on. United as one, we needed to hang tough until the final whistle went and we were able to grasp our opportunity.”Hajime Moriyasu
But these wins were not of skills alone, but also of nationalism fervor—the pride you get from putting your country at the top of the competition; clearly those who want more will more likely prevail. It is often quoted that Messi would give up all his club achievements for just one World Cup win for Argentina.
In the end, I agree this World Cup feels different for me. It’s because there is no Italy. I have been a supporter of Italy since the 90s; Nesta and Maldini were my idols. So when your team is not in the competition, who are you supporting? The answer is ‘upset’. I’m supporting underdog teams to beat the bigger names like France and Portugal and Argentina. I really hope Saudi Arabia can win the trophy, or Ghana, or better yet, Japan. So far it’s been great (Germany 1 : Japan 2, Argentina 1 : KSA 2, Wales 0 : IR Iran 2).
Another thing that makes this feel different is the state of the world we are in right now: war, recession, post-pandemic, gloomy forecast for the next year… and probably the fact that this time the World Cup seems to happen in autumn.
But again, if you’ve been living in this world for the past three years, you’d agree with me that it doesn’t feel like living on Earth lately, so why the world cup should feel like World Cup?