There are different perspectives on the World Cup in Qatar. In the western world, the tournament is highly controversial. In the world of FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, the tournament is glorified. The reality on the first day of play eats up this version.
The football, well, fan (?) at the Al-Bayt Stadium showed the world on Sunday night just how much excitement there is in "the best World Cup" of all time. When it became clear after 31 minutes of the opening game at the latest that the national team of Qatar was completely overwhelmed in terms of sport, would leave the tournament without a word or a word, possibly even as the worst host of all time in terms of sport, the fans (?) of the team left in droves the stadium. By half-time, the mighty complex in northern Qatar was almost deserted and the field emptied as the game neared the final whistle.
One who didn't go was Gianni Infantino. And his euphoric vision of a tournament the world had never seen was shattered before the eyes of that very world. The crowds of spectators fleeing couldn't even hide the international director's skilful perspectives. Qatar had turned their backs on their national team. Probably shocked how weak this team actually is. But maybe also in the knowledge that you won't miss anything here and instead prefer to retreat in an orderly and relaxed manner. Because getting to the arena was like a disaster. The stadium is not connected to the subway system, the bus shuttle is catastrophically organized, and the road is a bottleneck.
All in all, the result is something that is zero attractive. Al-Bayt threatens to become a mood grave. A, yes, cynical picture in view of the reports about the thousands of guest workers who died on the World Cup construction sites. And a disaster for FIFA. Another one. One that fits into the narrative of "the most disturbing games of all time". In the vision of FIFA and above all in that of its self-loving and self-righteous boss, the dazzling images from the emirate should make everything that was forgotten. All the criticism of the games that Infantino denounced in a crazy speech on Saturday, before the first kick-off, and turned it into a bizarre counterattack on the western (media) world.
And FIFA wouldn't be FIFA if they didn't launch a gigantic and embarrassing retaliation the day after the great humiliation. She actually criminalizes wearing the "One Love" armband! Any captain who wears the tolerance symbol on his upper arm during World Cup games will see a yellow card. After two games that would mean: one game compulsory break. Because the countries feel not only moral pressure, but also sporting, the top nations buckle, including Germany, England and the Netherlands. The French had already refused in advance. The justifications seemed constructed. There was speculation in the French media as to whether the economic ties between the two countries were the real reason.
FIFA is showing its assertiveness, based on its helpless dependence on Qatar. Instead of showing a stance, which nobody expects from the association anyway, FIFA prefers to hide behind Article 13.8.1 of the Equipment Rules: "For FIFA finals, the captain of each team must wear an armband provided by FIFA." The association, he said, supports campaigns like "One Love", but this must be done within the framework of the rules known to all. FIFA is doing everything it can to guard and protect this tournament, their favorite child, Qatar. They were first badly surprised by the short-term and unagreed beer ban in the stadium and then stabbed.
And with the immense pressure on the national teams, Infantino is now carrying out what he had planned just days before the start of the tournament. He pushes the political out of the tournament. He silences the mighty nations of the world. It is hard to imagine that signs for human rights are still being broadcast in the stadium. A few countries have promised to make a clear commitment. But who still has this courage?
And the prospects remain grim: In the coming year, Infantino will most likely go into his third term in office, there is no opposing candidate in the election. The fact that the DFB refuses to follow, but does not set up an opponent, should therefore not matter to the Swiss.
But back to the mass flight from the stadium. To conclude from this that the Qataris are not interested in football would be wrong. But it's also not boundless love for the (overwhelmed) heroes on the pitch, like in many other nations. What have the fans of African national teams used the World Cup stage for colorful and atmospheric parties in the past? What heartbreaking dramas and resurrections did the fans from South America experience in the stands. In Qatar, the fan view of things is rather sober. The looks of the Qataris, dressed in traditional robes, spoke volumes. It's not bad, and it doesn't come as a surprise. Football in the country is not associated with world class, but rather with aging world stars who close one last big deal.
FIFA also sensed that. Full stadiums, full box offices. The association announced on Sunday that 2.95 million tickets had already been sold for the tournament. This exceeded the figures for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where just over 2.4 million tickets were sold. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the US, Mexico, the UK, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, France, India and Brazil are the key markets, the spokesman said.
In fact, the streets of the capital are now also filling up with fans from South America, from Africa and with those who are here anyway and come from countries like Tunisia. But none of that could be observed on this opening night at Al-Bayt. A few fans of other teams got lost there, maybe had to get lost there. The most bizarre picture of all, however, came from those who stayed. A group of mysterious fans had gathered in one of the back goal blocks. They wore Qatar shirts and sang and twirled throughout the game. They gave the game something like soccer atmosphere.
In times of general availability of information, of networks worldwide, videos quickly circulated that showed that group in a kind of training camp. The hard block, which can probably be assigned to the Nejmeh club from the Lebanese capital Beirut, presents itself there to dramatic tones during the warm-up in a stadium in Doha. It is still unclear how and whether the Ultras were paid for this. But the suspicion is obvious. After all, there have been reports of purchased fans for weeks. But none of that is confirmed.
Well, if only the Qatari and FIFA had invested properly and bought a whole stadium full of fans. But that's the way it is: Infantino and the host country will soon have to come up with a new narrative after this Al-Bayt viewer disaster. Qatar's national team faces blitz-out, enthusiasm plummets dramatically towards the ground. No matter how crowded the fan festival in the heart of Doha is, the pictures from the stadium throw the organizers of this tournament into new explanations.
The sell-out of football on the backs of fans and players who suddenly have to become political figures (and of course still make good money from the billion-euro game), the unrest in Europe, the core area of club football, Infantino's wild thoughts and now the dreary pictures of the opening game. Football is really not doing well. The FIFA President's dream has failed.