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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

OPINION:

Soccer isn’t the most popular sport in the United States. In fact, it’s not even close. Football, baseball and basketball dominate the television viewing habits of Americans. The NFL’s Super Bowl is America’s largest annual television event with an audience of more than 110 million people each year. 

The FIFA World Cup, however, on a global basis, dwarfs the popularity of American football and its Super Bowl. The World Cup is a gathering of 32 teams representing their respective countries to compete for the title of the world’s best football (soccer) team. FIFA president Gianni Infantino said this past week that five billion people are expected to tune in for the 2022 World Cup. More than three million people are expected to visit the tiny host country of Qatar for the actual festivities. 


In short, the FIFA World Cup is as big as it gets.

Even if you don’t regularly follow soccer, it is exciting to watch the passion and pageantry that fans from all over the world feel for their home country. The World Cup affords an opportunity to bring people together like no other. The games provide competition of course, but the good fellowship and the chance to gather and eventually disperse in peace is a reminder that we are different from our neighbors on the planet, but that we all share common interests. Our religions may differ. Our government structure may differ. Indeed our culture as a whole may differ, but we are all human beings with a passion and pride for our own. The World Cup should be a unifying reminder of this. 

The Western media however has taken an embarrassingly different path. Seemingly unaware of the arrogance that proclaiming our culture is the only acceptable culture and that all others are wrong, many reporters from America and western Europe have been deeply critical of the host country of Qatar

When I was growing up it was an unspoken rule that if I was a guest in someone else’s house, I followed their rules. Likewise, if I visited another nation, it was my responsibility to learn their language and culture, rather than expecting that entire nation to accommodate me.

Apparently, this lesson was missed by many Americans calling themselves journalists. The publication National Review published a piece this week by Jim Geraghty complaining that FIFA is holding this latest World Cup in a “hellhole of a country.” In reality, Qatar is a beautiful country, filled with modern conveniences, an amazingly polite populace and a clear set of moral standards. Hardly the definition of a hellhole. 

National Review moans that “Putting the games in some nutty autocracy that abuses guest workers, hates a free press, and wants to suppress anything that might deviate from its preferred narrative makes those events less entertaining to audiences in the West.” 

Geraghty’s arrogance that the world must cater to the whims and preferences of a writer from the US is embarrassing. More importantly, none of that is an accurate portrayal of Qatar. It’s not nutty. It’s an amazing place. They don’t hate a free press. In fact, they are home to the Al Jazeera Television network, which while not without its flaws, has enraged more restrictive parts of the Middle East region at times for its candid, open coverage of difficult issues. As for requiring permits to film, that same thing can be said of virtually every major metropolitan city in the United States. The whiny criticisms ring hollow. 

This “nutty autocracy” is civilized, and organized and boasts an amazing infrastructure available to all. Its GDP per capita is higher than either the United States or the United Kingdom. The road network equals any in the west for both convenience and safety and its crime rate is a mere fraction of any of the large progressive metropolitan cities in America. Healthcare and education are both priorities. There is nothing nutty about any of that. 

Not to drift off topic, but inviting transgender drag queens into kindergarten classrooms to read sexualized material to small children seems a lot crazier to me. 

Many media outlets have made a broad and generic reference to Qatar’s alleged dismal human rights record. One self-proclaimed gay reporter waxed that he felt bad for the women who have to live in the miserable and oppressive conditions of the World Cup’s host country. That reporter has clearly never spent a day in Doha, nor is he aware of the leadership positions, both in the Qatari government and in the private sector, held by women. The gender claim is utter nonsense that an afternoon walking about would demonstrate to be untrue. 

Far worse though, was a report published last year by The Guardian claiming that 6,500 migrant workers had died since Qatar was selected in 2010 to host the tournament. The Guardian piece has been quoted and repeated by multiple news outlets including MSN and Vanity Fair. As it turns out, however, it is not true. The 6500 number was a prediction by Human Rights Watch as to how many workers they estimated would die. There is literally no evidence to support that their prediction came true. 

Lazy reporters from other outlets apparently couldn’t take the time to check the facts themselves, instead simply repeating the misleading allegations that were published in The Guardian. 

Despite no evidence, and no factual basis, the false allegations of human rights issues continue. These so-called journalists make no mention of the minimum wage instituted in Qatar. There is no mention of the minimum housing standards that are in place and enforced. In great irony one writer criticized Qatar’s human rights while praising two previous FIFA World Cups in Russia (2018) and South Africa (2010). Both have ridiculously bad track records for how they treat human beings. South Africa is arguably the most racist nation on the planet and no one can argue with a straight face that Russia is a human rights example. The bottom line is Qatar offers a far better opportunity to migrant workers than most. 

The Guardian continues its assault on the host nation even as the World Cup begins. Their chief sports writer, Barney Ronay spouted off this week, “There is only one story,” Ronay said, “and the story is: ‘What the hell are we all doing here?’” Before the first goal had been scored, The Guardian had decided this worldwide celebration of the sport would be a bad thing. 

They weren’t alone. 

Qatar was awarded this year’s World Cup in 2010 and spent the next 12 years building around $220 billion worth of new infrastructure including stadiums for the tournament and an underground metro.  The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal complained about it in the most odd way. “Everything is new.” He says so with a clear tinge of criticism. New eco-friendly stadiums. New road networks. New, clean, safe people moving metros. Why would someone complain about any of that?

One of the loudest cries from media types encamped in Doha was that alcohol sales would be limited. How outrageous that a conservative Muslim country would expect the world to respect their cultural norms. 

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, 3 million deaths every year result from the harmful use of alcohol, representing 5.3% of all deaths. The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. Maybe Qatar is doing us all a favor by limiting its consumption. Either way, isn’t it their prerogative to make that decision in their own nation?

Most prominent of all has been the western media and some teams’ insistence that promoting a gay agenda is their inherent duty. Despite a request from FIFA, the organizing body of this event, that teams “focus on football” and avoid being “dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.” some have felt that who has sex with whom should be front and center at The World Cup

The American team altered their team logo, normally the red white and blue of the nation’s colors, instead opting for LGBTQ rainbow stripes. They replaced pride in their nation with pride in two men sleeping together, and then they wonder why they struggle to establish a wide fan base in their own country. If players wish to promote any political cause on their own time, more power to them, but not at the expense of pride in the very country they represent.

American soccer writer Grant Wahl says he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a shirt with a gay-inspired rainbow on it. “Go gays,” he tweeted, with a rainbow emoji, sharing an image of the shirt. When a writer makes himself the story, one has to question the validity of his reporting. 

It is important to note that Wahl, while having an extensive background in soccer reporting, is not affiliated with any major news outlet and instead works for himself at his own website. His desperation for attention may explain why he is focused on rainbow t-shirts instead of actual soccer play. He also complained that he wouldn’t be able to grab a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer after a long workday. “I literally can’t have alcohol in my house,” he said. Oh, the oppression.

Geraghty, in the National Review, wondered if the drop in viewers for worldwide events like the China Olympics, wasn’t because people would not support events in troubled countries. The answer is much simpler. People want to watch the sporting event, not be lectured by the progressive left. 

Thankfully Fox, who holds the broadcast rights for the World Cup understands this elementary concept. “If a story affects the field of play, if it affects the competition in the tournament, we will cover it fully,” David Neal, the executive producer of Fox’s World Cup presentation, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. “If it doesn’t, if it’s ancillary to the tournament… we’re going to leave that to other entities to cover. Our focus is entirely on the 64-game tournament.” Neal also said, “viewers come to Fox Sports during the World Cup to see the greatest sports event in the world.” 

Amen. A great sporting event in a great country. Thank you, Qatar for hosting in such a first-class, impressive way. Shame on those in the western media who can’t fulfill the simple assignment of reporting on the matches.

  • Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times.


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