Balls to all this nonsense, I’m going to watch the cricket
Whoever said football is the beautiful game?
The Beautiful Game is back in all its corrupt glory, this time in a bleak and cold country ruled by oligarchs, a former superpower that still throws its weight around despite having fallen on hard times. Yes, England and Australia are playing cricket in the United Kingdom, and all is well in the world.
In Russia, however, another sport is getting some airtime. Well, I call it a sport but really it’s more of a social ritual, like drinking to excess and then vomiting in the street. For some reason, this sport is also called “the beautiful game”, presumably because its fans have never seen cricket or don’t know what “beautiful” means.
Look, I’m not knocking football or footballers. God knows, footballers fall down easily enough as it is. If you enjoy it, perhaps because you have never left the basement in which you were born, then fair play to you. (In case you’re wondering, “fair play” is something people do in actual sports, the ones where players don’t writhe and scream while clutching non-existent injuries.)I am, of course, joking. I hold no ill will towards the delightful game of rugby-without-the-imagination-to-solve-a-pretty-obvious-problem. But what does slightly alarm me about the Fifa World Cup is not how it brings people together but how it brings the worst people together and all the good people don’t seem to care.We love to talk about the unifying power of sport, but what really impresses me is the lobotomising power of sport. Dangle a ball in front of people and you can surgically remove their political convictions and ethical concerns in an instant. And few sports do it better than football.
For example, we all agree that inequality is a bad thing – until a footballer who is paid the GDP of a hemisphere appears on the telly. Then it’s not inequality: it’s just someone being paid what he’s worth. Just like what the CEOs say. Oh, that’s different, is it? OK.
Capitalism, too, is a wicked and oppressive system that must be overcome – except when it allows uber-capitalist Patrice Motsepe to fly Barcelona out to South Africa so that our most vocal anti-capitalists can pose for pictures with Lionel Messi. Once Messi is safely back on the plane the struggle against capitalism can continue and the hypocrisy generator can be dialled up to 11.
Football’s most glaring double standards, however, are around human rights.
For three years and 11 months out of every four years we are adamant that serial violators of human rights have no place in the community of decent nations, and least of all in sport. Apartheid South Africa, we recall, was banished from international sport, and rightly so.But then that one month arrives and the great lobotomy occurs. With a great yell of “Footbaaaaall!” we spur our high horse down off the high moral ground, and rush with open arms to embrace some of the foulest regimes on the planet.
Which is how the footballing world could celebrate an opening match between Russia, a kleptocracy that murders journalists and recently illegally annexed a piece of a neighbouring state, and Saudi Arabia, a medieval monarchy in which women are possessions and political dissent is treason, and which this week bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen, adding it to the long list of hospitals it has bombed over the last few years.
Today’s schedule is just as exhilarating if you’re a psychopath: you can look forward to watching Egypt (a police state in which dissenters are routinely tortured, imprisoned without trial and finally disappeared); Morocco (imprisonment of journalists and dissenters after unfair trails, torture in detention); and good old Iran (same-sex relationships punishable by death, recent execution of five children accused of committing crimes, detention without trial of dissenters and journalists, to name but a few).
Having said all that, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. Really. Enjoy the World Cup. Savour every moment because it’s going to be over in a flash. Before we know it, it will be time for our next lobotomy, as the Beautiful Game moves to Qatar in 2022 and that beautiful new stadium built by slaves. Goooaaal!