It is so obviously wrong to hold the World Cup in Qatar that it hardly needs saying. To briefly summarise the many reasons why FIFA should never have selected the petrocrat dictatorship to host the tournament, it’s an absolute monarchy and fundamentalist theocracy that rejects and outlaws human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, trade unions, dissent and democracy itself.
But this is nothing new; this is merely the latest example of the blatant World Cup ‘sportswashing’ and corruption that has been going on for decades. In 1934 it was held in Italy and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) openly boasted that the event was a propaganda tool to promote Fascism and nobody batted an eyelid. The 1938 World Cup in France shamefully went ahead regardless of the fact that qualifiers Austria, annexed by Germany in the ‘Anschluss’, were simply erased from the tournament. Brazil, run by a military dictatorship after one of the country’s many violent coups, hosted a farcical World Cup in 1950 that was plagued by withdrawals and bans and boycotted by all of Asia and eastern Europe and much of South America. England’s 1966 farrago was tarnished before a ball was kicked by the withdrawal of all the African nations in protest at FIFA granting membership to apartheid South Africa, and then horribly compromised by England’s own FIFA president Stanley Rous (1895-1986) fixing the outcome via backhanders to key referees and linesmen. Nobody seemed to have a problem with Mexico hosting in 1970, despite it being an oppressive one-party state that regularly cracked down hard on political opponents and massacred student protesters. West Germany 1974 was another Stanley Rous fix through corrupted match officials to ensure the hosts won. Argentina 1978 featured more match-fixing while acting as a shocking endorsement of the country’s blood-soaked military junta who brazenly used it to seek legitimacy on the world stage. 1982 hosts Spain had been chosen back in 1966, when the brutal Fascist regime of dictator General Franco (1892-1975) was in full swing – a factor that was entirely unproblematic for FIFA. There were no qualms either about Mexico hosting for a second time in 1986 even though it was still a one-party autocracy and beset by electoral fraud on a massive scale. For the 1994 tournament the US patented the now familiar process of buying hosting rights by stuffing FIFA officials’ pockets with millions of dollars in backhanders. There was more bribery and corruption in the bidding process for the 1998 tournament, eventually secured by France. The 2002 tournament, awarded to joint hosts Japan and South Korea in 1996, was a veritable orgy of slush funds in which FIFA president João Havelange (1916-2016) alone snaffled £21million for the competition’s marketing rights. By the 2006 World Cup FIFA, with Sepp Blatter in charge, was universally recognised as a byword for grandiose levels of corruption. The 2010 tournament was awarded to South Africa, despite Morocco winning the vote, thanks to $10million in bribes paid to members of FIFA’s executive committee. 2014 was hosted by completely inappropriate Brazil to the background of protests, deaths of construction workers, violent clearances of favelas and the widespread misuse of public funds, and was soon followed by the 12-year ban of Blatter from all football, to nobody’s surprise, for corruption and financial mismanagement. And in 2018 FIFA, with its trademark impeccable judgement and high principles, awarded the tournament to Putin’s warmongering, imperialistic Russia, fresh from the violent annexation of Crimea and with an approach to human rights that makes Qatar look like a soppy liberal utopia.
Mind you, when it comes to sportswashing international football is as pure as the driven snow compared to club football. In the club game repressive regimes are joined by odious billionaires and venal megalomaniacs to completely distort and contaminate the game. At least international teams cannot purchase and stockpile the cream of the world’s players to buy trophies and destroy proper competition as happens in just about every national league in the world. The most extreme example of this is provided by the English Premier League (EPL), a bottomless pit of obscene quantities of dirty money run according to the profiteering, monetising tenets of corporate capitalism at its very worst. Thanks to this monstrosity, the media empire of Rupert Murdoch was able to spread its far-right propaganda around the world on the back of Sky TV rights and enable people like Donald Trump to seize power. That alone should make anyone with a shred of decency avoid the EPL like the plague, and a cursory glance at the owners of the league’s 20 current members confirm how utterly reprehensible it is:
Arsenal: One of the many sports baubles of reclusive American billionaire tycoon Stan Kroenke, a Republican who has made huge political donations to Trump, who tried to take Arsenal into the aborted ‘European Super League’ and who owns a bloodsports TV channel that entertains viewers with the killing of elephants, lions and other endangered species. Arsenal’s sponsor, after which the Emirates Stadium is named, is actually the government of Dubai – an absolute monarchy that, just like Qatar, has no truck with human rights, women’s rights, gay rights and democracy.
Aston Villa: Under the umbrella of the ‘NSWE’ group, Villa are in the clutches of the world’s richest Arab, Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris, and ‘private equity investor’ American billionaire Wes Edens. They ooze money.
Bournemouth: Bournemouth were snapped up in 2011 by Russian Maxim Demin, who made his fortune as a petrochemicals trader in the chaos following the disintegration of the USSR and the rise of the oligarchs. The Tories provided him with a UK passport long before Putin’s war made it expedient to suddenly disapprove of and sanction Russians.
Brentford: Matthew Benham is that EPL rarity, an English owner. He had stints as a hedge-fund manager and a derivatives trader in the City of London before moving into the gambling industry. A big advocate of statistical modelling and ‘data analytics’, he’s only worth £3million – which makes him the least wealthy owner in the EPL, poor thing.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Multi-millionaire English owner Tony Bloom amassed his wealth through proprietary betting, betting syndicates, property and private equity portfolios. Brighton’s Falmer Stadium, opened 2011, was built slap bang on an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and largely funded by a lucrative naming rights deal with American Express. That will do nastily.
Chelsea: Chelsea joined the elite entirely thanks to the filthy lucre of billionaire Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who had enriched himself following the USSR’s collapse by obtaining state-owned assets at prices far below market value. Eventually he earned himself the title of the world’s biggest single emitter of CO2. His close links to Putin meant he had to surrender his toy when Russia invaded Ukraine, so he wrote off the $1.5billion the club owed him and sold it to another billionaire, American ‘businessman’ Todd Boehly.
Crystal Palace: Owned by a consortium consisting of Americans John Textor (virtual reality, streaming services, ‘disruptive technologies’), Joshua Harris (private equity investor) and David Blitzer (shareholder in nine sports teams), and Englishmen Jeremy Hoskings (‘asset management’ and major Tory Party donor), Martin Long (insurance) and Steve Parish (um, a businessman).
Everton: Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri, who lives in tax haven Monaco and is chairman of USM, a Russian holding company with interests in metal, mining, telecom and technology sectors, owns debt-riddled Everton.
Fulham: Fulham are the plaything of Pakistani-American billionaire sports tycoon Shahid Khan, the world’s richest Pakistani who made his money flogging auto parts. Forbes magazine has dubbed him “the face of the American Dream”. Bloody hell, I’d hate to see the nightmare!
Leeds United: The club’s majority owner is Italian Andrea Radrizzani, a big cheese in global sports broadcasting, digital media, tech start-up’s, apps, entertainment brands, sports agencies and various other who-needs-it manifestations that pass for economic activity in late capitalism’s tragic phase.
Leicester City: Bought in 2010 by Thai duty-free retail group King Power, which has made millions from its vast, vulgar shopping mall in Bangkok and various airport and tourist area outlets. The company operates as a government-sanctioned monopoly and has given unstinting support and generous donations to Thailand’s anti-democratic far-right military junta.
Liverpool: Yet another American-owned operation, Liverpool have been a bargaining chip for Yank capitalists lured by the EPL’s licence to print money since the masters of ‘leveraged debt’ first took over in 2010. Currently it’s the property of the Fenway Sports Group.
Manchester City: Since becoming the possession of the staggeringly wealthy ruling family of UAE capital Abu Dhabi in 2008, Manchester City has become the world’s richest football club and, surprise surprise, have won six of the last 11 EPL titles. This has allowed Abu Dhabi to construct a public relations image of a progressive, dynamic Gulf state which could not be further from the truth for a tyrannical, absolutist hereditary monarchy that doesn’t allow elections, is run according to medieval Sharia law and has garnered its obscene wealth from operating a price-fixing oil cartel and hastening the oil-driven catastrophe of planetary destruction. City fans don’t care, they’ve got bragging rights in Droylsden.
Manchester United: Money-mad American Malcolm Glazer (1928-2014) acquired Manchester United in a £800million takeover by gradually buying out shareholders between 2003 and 2005. Once that was accomplished the richest club in the world became the most indebted club in the world, Glazer having used loans secured against the club’s assets to buy it (the old ‘leveraged debt’ ruse). That debt costs United £60million a year in interest alone, but no matter: the Glazer dynasty have got themselves a ‘brand’ that can be milked in perpetuity.
Newcastle United: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This, to their eternal shame, is now the Geordie philosophy. Since 2021 the club is merely an arm of the Saudi Arabian state, useful idiots to help airbrush the reputation of a tyranny that specialises in brutal warmongering, state-sponsored terrorism, extrajudicial use of capital punishment, human trafficking, crushing opposition, discrimination against minorities, persecuting atheists, antisemitism, death squads and rendering the Earth uninhabitable. Giz a shake…
Nottingham Forest: Forest are the project of Greek media mogul, shipowner and politician Evangelos Marnakis. Keen on high profile philanthropic gestures (aka charitywashing), he also owns Greek club Olympiacos of Piraeus.
Southampton: Sold in January by Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng to a group called ‘Sport Republic’ financed by Serbian billionaire Dragan Šolak, yet another media mogul from yet another nation state in need of a thorough sportswash.
Tottenham Hotspur: Owned since 2001 by the ENIC Group, an offshore, Bahamas-registered holding company controlled by billionaire currency trading tax-exile Joe Lewis. ENIC is just one component in Lewis’s Tavistock Group of companies, a voracious organisation dedicated to the pursuit of money with a huge portfolio of interests from private resorts and clubs to pubs and restaurants. Oy vey!
West Ham United: Joint owners since 2010 David Sullivan and David Gold have recently had to sell 27% of their shares to Czech billionaire Daniel Křetinský, who owns the largest energy group in central Europe. Having cleared debts accrued by the club’s questionable relocation to the Olympic Stadium, the Penarth pornographer and the East End sex-toy vendor needed a big penetration of lovely money just to stand still. Note: West Ham are one of seven London clubs in the EPL (eight if you count London-on-Sea Brighton), a reflection of the massive over-concentration of wealth and power in the English capital.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company Fosun International are in charge at Wolves. Do I need to mention China’s human rights record? Seemingly unaware that Wolverhampton is in England, the Chinese owners have stuffed the first team squad with no less than ten Portuguese players. Olá!
Football, the beautiful game, the working-class ballet, the people’s game, has been colonised by political power and stolen from us all by the greedy, immoral hucksters, whores, apologists and agents of anarchic, unrestrained, hyper-capitalist ‘market forces’. All the ancient nostrums humans have understood since time immemorial have been confirmed: the love of money is the root of all evil…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing…where wealth accumulates men decay…etc, etc. It is now nothing more than another soulless ‘industry’ dedicated to ceaseless growth, eliminating all competition and making the very rich even richer. But let nobody think this disaster has only befallen football: the insane logic of the rampant profit motive has wreaked havoc in all organised sports. The very pinnacle of this is not actually football but the multi-sports umbrella of the Olympic Games.
The Olympic ‘movement’ is the prime example of the rotten, toxic consequences of the monetisation of every human activity and is the unchallenged, supreme exponent of sportswashing. As writer and iconoclast Will Self put it: “The Olympics suck dogshit through a straw. People believe they encourage da yoof to take up running and jumping – but this is postmodernist nonsense, they’re just a boondoggle for politicians and financiers”. The ever-expanding Olympics (summer, winter and paralympics) with their ever-growing roster of pretend-sports gobbling up every esoteric pastime imaginable to pay lip-service to meaningless ‘inclusivity’ are legendary for their spectacular waste of resources, for their gigantic carbon footprint, for bankrupting host cities, for epic levels of drug abuse and cheating, for rich countries openly recruiting athletes from poor countries to boost medal tallies and thereby whip up preposterous supremacist chest-beating in the yellow press, for total reliance on carpet-bombing sponsorship by peddlers of junk food, obesity, diabetes and consumerist tat, for laughably po-faced, faux mystical, torch-bearing hokum, for toe-curlingly self-congratulatory and over-the-top opening and closing ‘ceremonies’ forever trying to outdo the previous effort with breathtakingly kitsch third-rate cast-of-thousands routines and impossibly rose-tinted rewrites of history, and for the sheer, unadulterated boredom of the entire anthropocentric, delusional, naff, instantly forgettable, gigantic non-event.
As for individual sports in their own right, there are umpteen that are so completely illegitimate they make football seem like a beacon of rectitude. For instance, why are motor sports allowed to exist at all? Petrol guzzling, exhaust spewing cars and bikes going round and round a racetrack in a series of globe-trotting circuses should cease forthwith. This is not sport, it’s a crime. And why, when there’s so much virtue-signalling and handwringing about concussion in rugby or the effects of heading the ball in football, is there no equivalent outcry about boxing, a sport that specifically hinges on the deliberate inflicting of actual brain damage – the knock-out? Like dogfighting or bear-baiting or punching someone outside the pub on a Saturday night, all boxing should be completely illegal and its parasitic promoters and thuggish practitioners arrested.
I know the answer to these questions: m-o-n-e-y. And I know why the Qatar World Cup is being picked on in an unprecedented way. The first reason is that scapegoating soccer both buries the appalling history of the UK’s decisive role in the very existence of Qatar and all the UAE states and also gets the current UK Tory government off the hook. The real history of Britain is not taught to the British, who remain in sublime ignorance of all the many crimes committed in their name by this violent, plundering imperialist state. Suffice to say here, regarding the Persian Gulf, the whole region was repeatedly attacked by British navy patrols and incursions from the late 18th century onwards in order to clear the waterways and coasts for British convenience and profit on the trade routes to the east. The British called it, with typical insolent twisting of the truth, the “Pirate Coast” – when these coasts and waters were the homelands of the rich and ancient maritime Arabic culture and it was the British who were the intrusive, lawless ‘pirates’. After major wars in 1809 and 1819, in which thousands of Arabs were killed, the British prevailed and forced the sheikhs (local leaders) of the network of coastal communities to sign a peace treaty in 1820. This was further consolidated after more skirmishes with a ‘perpetual truce’ in 1853 which created the ‘Trucial States’, a British Protectorate of small client states compelled to do the UK’s bidding, or else.
So it remained until, as the sun set on the British Empire through the 20th century and oil was discovered in the region in the 1930s, the United Arab Emirates – a federation of seven emirates – eventually won independence in 1971 following many inter-emirate wars that were the consequence of the artificial boundaries, the disruption of naturally evolving nationhoods and the militaristic, greedy, unequal culture foisted on the region by the British. In the 50 years since, the incalculable riches of oil have turned the tables and now, if anything, the UK is the client state and the UAE calls the shots. Successive governments have grovelled shamelessly before the wealth of the increasingly despotic sheikhs, bending over backwards to appease in the hope of gaining preferment and advantage. Whole neighbourhoods in the posher parts of London have been bought up, close alliances have been fostered with Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular, involving cooperation on security and trade links and the UK supplying both with lucrative arms sales. Boris Johnson regularly went to Saudi to grovel in front of Mohammed bin Salman, no matter that his government had arranged for a Saudi journalist to be murdered in Istanbul in 2018, and the Tories have taken the Qatar relationship to new levels of closeness: the RAF operates a joint air force squadron with Qatar, King Charles III accepted £3million in sacks of cash between 2011 and 2015 from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, the man who is Qatar’s World Cup supremo, and the Qatari purchase of prestige London assets like Harrods and the Shard and stakes in the London Stock exchange and British Airways have been nodded through without a moment’s pause to consider, say, LGBTQ issues and Human Rights abuses. Yes, any pearl-clutching outrage at Qatar’s flagrant unsuitability to host the World Cup is all just mealy-mouthed, box ticking double-speak and industrial-level hypocrisy designed to point the finger at football and draw a veil over the responsibility of the people who really have the power to do something about it: the Tory government and the British State. Don’t believe a fucking word of it.
But there is one further, more subtle, reason for the anti-Qatar, boycott-the-World-Cup posturing. I smell a rat. And that rat is the deeply ingrained, bone-marrow antipathy to the very existence of Wales in any embodiment, let alone a global event that will be watched by billions. Cymruphobia thrives in England, among British Nationalist colonisers affronted by our continued existence despite 900 years of unstinting effort to eradicate us, among pea-brained deniers infuriated by the realisation the English are the johnny-come-lately foreigners and we are the indigenous natives, and among ostensible ‘progressives’ who hate the notion that the UK is an artificial imperialist construct because it forces them to confront their brainwashing, their ignorance and the utter superficiality and shallowness of their cherished ‘internationalism’ and always contingent ‘liberal’ values. Cymruphobia also exists in Cymru itself, in lesser but still significant numbers: among far-right fawners to power, among might-is-right determinists, among collaborators in cahoots with the British State for perceived personal gain, among the impoverished, illiterate underclass who have never heard of Wales, among Catholics, lapsed or otherwise, indoctrinated into treating the decrees of medieval Popes as handed down from God, and among the 25% of Wales that are English migrant settlers. We should never underestimate any of these sub-groups, even as their numbers steadily decline. Cymru qualifying for the World Cup has given them an opportunity to express their hostility – but at a tangent, never directly.
One of the best examples of this I have seen recently was an article by Ed Vulliamy in The Observer on the day of the Wales v Ukraine play-off in June. Under the strapline ‘I’ll cheer Ukraine on tonight’ and the sub-heading ‘Even with my Welsh heritage I know which team I have to support’, the English-born and bred journalist and writer used time-worn duplicity to present anti-Wales prejudice as open-minded impartiality. He began: “This evening, every football fan in the world – apart from the Welsh – will be joined by many others who do not even care for the game in rooting for the national team of battered and besieged but resilient Ukraine as they face Wales for a place in the World Cup in Qatar later this year.” To unpick that despicable paragraph from the multi award-winning war reporter, one must start by asking why he has cooked up the patently untrue lie that “every football fan in the world” will be supporting Ukraine. I alone can name quite a few non-Welsh football fans from my own acquaintances who were rooting for Wales, and there must have been countless others who did not conflate a football match with a completely unconnected geo-political conflict and simply had a preference for Wales from a football perspective as the much smaller underdogs with superstar Bale in their ranks who had not qualified for a World Cup for 64 years and would probably never get a better chance again. Then there is the special pleading for “battered and besieged but resilient Ukraine” – an extraordinarily insulting and deeply ignorant negation of the Welsh experience. Because if the words “battered and besieged but resilient” can be applied to any nation on the planet, there are few that fit the description better than Wales. We were violently annexed nearly 500 years before Russia’s Ukraine encroachments – or does Vulliamy not know that? We have been besieged on a daily basis by colonisers and land-grabbers and ethnic-cleansers ever since – or is Vulliamy unaware of that? And we are the very epitome of “resilient” to a degree quite unprecedented in history – or did Vulliamy not listen to the Welsh fans singing Yma o Hyd? His next paragraph was even worse: “Watching here in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, even I, with a substantial quotient of Welsh DNA, will be wearing my official Ukraine yellow shirt with ‘Malinovskyi 8’ on the back”. That “substantial quotient of Welsh DNA” amounts to a great-grandfather on his mother’s side. This constitutes a not particularly substantial 12.5% of his “DNA” that probably half the UK population could match – supposing one wants to accept the dumb notion that identity is determined by something as random as some genes handed down by chance from a dead person one never met. The “even I” he throws in, as if he were Iolo Morganwg not an upper-class Londoner born into privilege, educated in a private school and at an elite Oxford college, is simply laughable. And, and as for the “Watching here in St Davids, Pembrokeshire” – is that supposed to be clinching evidence of his Welsh credentials that will give him a free pass to be anti-Welsh? Is he a second-home owner helping destroy the Welsh heartlands? Does he actually live in Tyddewi, cranking up prices so homes are unaffordable for locals while in white flight from dirty, noisy London? Or is he just an airbnb tourist helping turn it into a ghost town? He doesn’t say. The simple fact of watching the match on a TV in Wales is, presumably, meant to give added heft to his Welsh credentials and permit him to proceed to fill a whole page of newsprint with his incoherent witterings that can effectively be summed up as “Come on Ukraine! Beat the Taffs!” This posing as Welsh to add validity to anti-Welshness typifies an old con we see being utilised currently by the Tories in London, who use ‘people of colour’ like Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch to freely advocate and implement racist policies in a way that would look like outright racism coming from white Tories. Vulliamy follows in a long line of fake-Welsh stooges of Britishness concealing Cymruphobia behind off-the-peg Welshness: current Welsh Secretary David Davies is another that comes to mind. His Ukraine article exposed him as a fatally compromised closet conservative woefully lacking both courage and self-awareness.
Yes, all these forces are working hard to belittle and mar the World Cup for the Welsh people after a lifetime of waiting. Well, I will not let them do it to me and, without a shred of guilt, I shall watch with relish every single minute of every single match in what is sure to be a momentous, unforgettable World Cup in Qatar. Cymru am byth!