With the World Cup in Qatar, football passes a new stress test

To analyse. Like the balls it once used, football has thick leather. Throughout its history, this sport has gone through multiple crises, many dramas and many changes, some of which were brutal, without its survival seeming threatened. We would prefer to avoid a term that the era often overuses, but what “resilience” football is! The ability of this discipline to get back on its feet after being confronted with a “external disturbance”as defined by Larousse, is once again tested on the occasion of the 2022 World Cup, which begins on Sunday, November 20, in Doha, with the Qatar-Ecuador match.

For this World Cup, the first organized in the Arab world, it is also more accurate to speak of “external disturbances” in the plural. Because several subjects, sources of a thousand controversies, escort the competition since the attribution of its organization to Qatar, on December 2, 2010: suspicions of corruption of the leaders of the International Football Federation (FIFA), fatal accidents on the construction sites of the stadiums and infrastructure built for the event, environmental bill, working conditions for immigrants, women’s and LGBT + rights… Do not throw away any more, the World Cup is so full, and the debates so lively, that some fans are considering, for the first time, to shun “their” quadrennial celebration. In many other sectors, we would speak, without hesitation, of an “existential crisis”.

At this point, it is instructive to observe how football has reformed in the past when faced with acute problems or real disasters. The history of this sport is paved with it. As far as security is concerned, the layout of the stadiums and the management of supporters were completely reviewed after the tragedies of Heysel (39 dead, in Brussels, on 29 May 1985) and Hillsborough (97 dead, in Sheffield, April 15, 1989). Hooliganism is experiencing, after the period of empty stadiums during the Covid-19 pandemic, serious resurgences. But, in many countries, attending a football match with the family without fear has again become – for those who can afford tickets – something possible.

Gaddafi’s Libya averted

In their relations with States, past and present FIFA officials, far from being exemplary, have remained at a distance from the most worrying regimes after coming to terms with the actions of the Argentine dictatorship in 1978. World Cup 1982 in Spain to that of 2014 in Brazil via the 1998 World Cup in France, the flagship meeting of football was held in countries considered to be respectable democracies. In 1984, FIFA wisely preferred Italy to the USSR for the organization of the 1990 World Cup. And, in 2004, Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya ended up withdrawing its joint candidacy with Tunisia for the 2010 World Cup, ultimately attributed to South Africa.

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