Enjoy the game and stop the whingeing


In his book “Soccer in the sun and shadow,” the late lyrical Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano traces the origins and development of soccer to the Chinese. “In soccer, like everything else,” Galeano says, “the Chinese were the first. Five thousand years ago, Chinese jugglers had the ball dancing on their feet, and it wasn’t before long before they organize the first games. The net was in the centre of the field and players had to keep the ball from touching ground without using their hands. The sport continued from dynasty to dynasty, as can be seen on certain bas-relief monuments from before Christ…engravings show people playing with a ball that could have been made by Adidas.”

The ancient Egyptians, Japanese, Greeks Romans all “had fun kicking a ball around.” Centuries later “Roman legionaries kicked the ball all the way to the British Isles.” Galeano even quotes Shakespeare in the 1592 play “The Comedy of Errors” when a character complained: “Am I so round as you with me, / that like a football you do spurn me thus?” To the rest of Europe, South and Central America, the game spread – kicking a ball and any adversary who stood in their way. Soccer rules came later.

It is only fitting, therefore, that the World Cup, which was first played in Uruguay in 1930, made it to several countries in Europe, the USA, Mexico, South Korea/Japan and South Africa, is now being played in Qatar, Arabia. Strange, that China, the first country that kicked a ball around, has never hosted a World Cup tournament. And, given that the West, which is the self-appointed judge of world ethics, named China public enemy number one, the ancient civilization, whenever it decides to hold one, will have a fight on their hands to land one.

The World Cup has never been lacking in political controversy in any of its quadrennial tournaments, and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is no different. However, not within living memory has a host country seen so much political demonstrations by players and spectators, and face so much criticism like Qatar.

The Islamic country has a law against same-sex attraction – “totally unacceptable”, we say, even though most Western countries only changed their any-gay laws a few years ago. We don’t like the way they treat imported labour, but Canada, the US and Europe’s record on the use of migrant labour are not exactly exemplary. Good heavens, like most Islamic countries, Qatar, doesn’t want the consumption of alcohol in the stands!! – say it ain’t so! And the way they treat women! “Don’t get me start!”

The Germans spent $14 billion on the last World Cup in 2018. The Qataris, sparing nothing from their substantial treasury, spent $200 billion – how disgraceful! How arrogant! How stupid! But please don’t close your account at Chase Manhattan Bank and, like Saudi Arabia, keep buying billions of dollars of arms from us. After all, we’re your ally. You need us.

How sad that the Qataris are hosting the largest of all World Cups (32 teams); built air-conditioned stadia in the desert and first class facilities to house the teams and cater to the hundreds of thousands of visiting fans. And we on this side of the world can only whinge at a time when all the world needs a break from the turmoil in which we are active participants.

We say, chill out and begin to tell us about the beauty of the ballet that is being danced on the pitches in Qatar. Line up your scribes and tell us about the game in all its spendour. Let’s see the fun and art of the game through your eyes.

And in doing so, to remember Galeano’s statement on the flyleaf of his book:

“The pages that follow/ are dedicated to the children/ who once upon a time, years ago, / crossed my path on the Calella de la Costa. They had been playing soccer and singing: ‘We lost, we won, either way we had fun’.