It’s not about the alcohol

The 2022 Qatar World Cup is just three days from kick off and the Qatar authorities have done an about face on selling alcohol, announcing that beer will not be sold inside the grounds of the stadiums. This announcement may come as a shock to some, especially the sponsors – Budweiser, who have traveled to Qatar and expected to be able to buy beer in the stadiums on game day. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that a country with literally unimaginable wealth which is run as an autocracy would just suddenly change their minds about anything that they previously “permitted” to happen on their home soil.

Qatar is a country where money means nothing to them since they can just pump more of it out of the ground, so they have the money to pay off the sponsors. This is especially true since they are sitting on the third largest Natural Gas reserves and with the Russian invasion of Ukraine putting a pinch on Natural Gas in Europe – and with Germany halting new Nuclear power after the Fukushima accident – the EU is more dependent than ever on fossil fuels from the Gulf. Qatar doesn’t care about money. As long as the West remains dependent on fossil fuels for energy and plastics they have an apocalyptic amount of wealth.

And what about shame? Up until now, it seemed that the Qatar authorities were operating as if shame might matter to them. After all, the point of buying this tournament is or was sportswashing their image. But in recent weeks we’ve seen a counter-offensive in the Western media. They have started calling criticism of this World Cup “racist” and deploying “whatabouttery” at every opportunity. “I think it’s racist to say Qatar can’t decide not to have alcohol. And as for gay pride, did you criticize the Russian World Cup?”

I guess it needs to be said – because so many people have brain worms these days – it’s not racist to point out that you disagree with some of the laws and actions of Qatar, just like it’s not anti-semitic to disagree with some of the actions of Israel, or racist to disagree with North Korea shooting missiles at Japan and South Korea. Of course, there could be some who do those things because they are racist or anti-semites but it’s not inherently the case.

And yes, dingbat, tons of us criticized the Russian World Cup for their anti-gay stance, violence, and slavery. It’s quite simple to google these things these days. If you’d like a detailed account of the slavery, torture, and murders in the Russian World Cup, Human Rights Watch has conveniently compiled it. Also, before you go ahead and ask, I was very critical of the Brazil World Cup and the way that country just removed people from favelas and wasted billions on stadiums in the middle of nowhere. And when those things happen here in the Americas for the next World Cup, I’ll be critical of them too.

The problem is that we live in the post-shame era. For most of my life extremist right-wingers often said one thing out loud and did something very different behind the scenes. Being outed as a fascist or supporting Nazi policies used to be a disqualifier for office in the West. But since Trump showed the world that just doing and saying whatever you want wouldn’t get you punished (much) if you’re rich and powerful, the rich and powerful have decided that they will just do and say whatever serves them. I know that it has been this way for a long time in much of the world but it seems to have finally come home to much of the rest of the world.

And so what does Qatar have to lose by anything that they do during this World Cup? Will people stop buying oil and natural gas from them? I suppose, maybe? But given the world’s dependence on those resources I wonder what promises they would have to renege on before we enacted meaningful sanctions? It’s already a brutal autocratic surveillance state in which people are imprisoned for speaking out against the regime. It’s a country where gay people are jailed and “reprogrammed” if they are outed. This time it’s just beer but what would happen to them if, say, they decided to go back on the promise that LGBTQ+ people were “welcome” in Qatar? What would people do if they suddenly jailed anyone they decided was “acting gay”? After all, FIFA and the world has turned a blind eye to literal slavery and perhaps thousands of worker’s deaths and told us that we “need to respect the local traditions and customs of Qatar.” So I wonder what’s next?



  1. Kudos to the women, Beth Mead and Leah Williamson amongst them, for not wanting to be involved in it and for calling it out as a mistake.
    Less so for the Gary Nevilles, Gary himself getting deservedly taken to task here:
    Of course I’ll watch some matches but it I won’t be celebrating the tournament or the bent decision to award it to Qatar in the first place.
    Shamelessness all round, as it was giving it to the Russians.
    It’s not just the beer: dictatorships don’t make god hosts, a lesson that should have been learnt in ’36.

  2. Places like Qatar are where (my kind of) fun goes to die. It’s a cultural clash that never should’ve happened…except for all the f&$king money it made for FIFA.

    Now everyone interested in this – on all sides – is forced to hold their noses for 3 weeks. Disgusting.

    If ever an all-gay and trans team could win a World Cup it should be here and it should be now. Maybe one day…

  3. A counterpoint of sorts from the Economist. Interesting reading, so I copied it in full. Apologies for cluttering up the comments section …

    “Migrant workers are often treated very badly. There is much less sexual freedom than in Western countries. It is not a democracy. These statements are true of Qatar, where the month-long finals of the football World Cup begin this weekend. They are also true of Russia, which hosted the previous World Cup, and China, which hosted the most recent Olympic games, last winter. In fact, Qatar is a much more suitable country to host a big sporting event than either of those two.

    At best, Western criticism of the decision to award the games to Qatar fails to distinguish between truly repugnant regimes and merely flawed ones. At worst, it smacks of blind prejudice. A lot of the indignant pundits sound as if they simply do not like Muslims or rich people.

    Qatar may not be a democracy, but it is not the despicable despotate of cartoonish editorials. The previous emir, under no popular pressure at all, introduced elections of a sort. He also set up a news channel, Al Jazeera, that is more outspoken than its Arab rivals, even if it goes easy on Qatar itself. That is a far cry from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where you get sent to prison for describing the war in Ukraine as a war, let alone denouncing it. And it is a world of difference from China, where no peep of political dissent is tolerated. The Argentine junta that hosted the World Cup in 1978 threw critics out of helicopters.

    The world also looks at migrant workers in Qatar through a distorted lens. For one thing, the emirate is more open to foreign labour than America or any European country. Native Qataris make up only 12% of the population—a proportion supposedly more enlightened countries simply would not tolerate. Although these migrants are sometimes mistreated, the wages most earn are life-changing, which is why so many want to come in the first place. And whereas hosting the Olympics twice has not made China more democratic, the chance to stage the World Cup has led to an improvement in Qatar’s labour laws.

    The claim that Qatar is a den of homophobia is also misleading. Gay sex is illegal, it is true, but so is all sex outside marriage. There are few prosecutions for violating these laws, however. And such conservative but seldom-enforced laws are common throughout much of the developing world, and in almost all Muslim countries. Qatar hardly stands out.

    Then there are the claims that Qatar bribed its way to World Cup glory. That may be true, although no clear proof has ever been made public. But if it is, it says more about fifa, the body governing international football, than it does about Qatar. The world is always going to have rich countries; it needs sporting authorities able to guard against undue influence.

    The strongest argument against Qatar as a host is environmental. With the world overheating, it seems mad to fly in legions of players, fans and hangers-on to run about in new, air-conditioned stadiums on grass sustained by desalinated water. The hosts’ claim that the event will be carbon-neutral is dubious. But this is a vice of all big sporting events, to some degree. Thanks to clever engineering, cooling the stadiums is not as polluting as you might imagine. And the 3.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide that fifa says the tournament will emit is just 0.01% of global emissions this year.

    Unless fifa wants the tournament to rotate among Finland, Norway and Sweden, it cannot always hold it in a blameless spot. The idea of bringing the World Cup to the world is only right. The Middle East is full of fans, but has never hosted the event before. Nor has any Muslim country. If the World Cup is ever to be held in such a place, Qatar is a perfectly good choice.”

    1. Well, at least it’s a more well-written version of “the history of almost every country is repugnant, so you shouldn’t criticize Qatar” than others I’ve read.

      1. I read a couple of articles stating that the Qatar PR operation that the World Cup was supposed to be is turning into, if not a nightmare, at least into a counterproductive move. Maybe because the world is more aware of what’s happening behind the scene, because the general level of information and interest has been raised, because, mainly through the internet, people talk, exchange, inform each other. Maybe, maybe!, the next state that will want to sportwash its credibility will think twice?
        I’m a believer in the power of information for the consumer (of sport events or goods). Only the behaviour of that customer will enable us to solve that gigantic issue: we entrust our health, our environment to companies whose only goal is the maximise shareholder’s value.

    2. Most reasonable people would agree that nothing in this world is black or white. My disdain of this tournament is less about “hating” Qatar, than the glaring artificiality of going along to get along, less for the sake of sport than for money.

      There is plenty to do and enjoy in the Middle East without handwringing over cultural differences. My father-in-law worked in Abu Dhabi for 13 years. I and long-suffering-wife-of-1-Nil had a few truly happy visits there.

      Driving his very fast car (a burnt orange Dodge Charger) across the desert to see Dubai coming up to what is has become today was always a highlight.

      I sometimes gigged in the big hotels at night, playing covers, always in Dubai never in Abu Dhabi.

      But he was there for work – a dedicated professional. He was an engineer, part of that cadre of expat technical expertise that helped build the infrastructure of that region into what we see today. I remember he had a couple of trips to Doha as well.

      He was grateful for the job, and he (as well as his family) remain proud of what he and team contributed, but there was always an edge to his tenure. He discovered their work phones were tapped. Their comings and goings often had a tail.
      He had to accompany wife-of-1-Nil, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law everywhere, “just in case”, even in less strict UAE.

      He himself is a teetotaler, but he succumbed to buying booze a few times for his Muslim colleagues. His manager looked the other way as he handed over Dhiram’s for his Johnny Walker Red Label.

      For a guy who plays rock n roll with the amps to eleven* (at least in my head), it was all a bit strange.


  4. Tim, thanks for your response on the other thread. Just getting arouind to replying.

    I think we can agree that the purchases of 2021 were directed toward the current vision of the team, yes? Ben White, Ramsdale and Odegaard are all crucial ingredients in what we are doing.

    So then the bone of contention is really that summer of 2020. In 2019, Arsenal had talented forwards but that was about it. We fell apart when pressed, had to bypass midfield to progress the ball, we didn’t defend well individually or as a team, the players were fractured into camps, the relationship with the fans was terrible, I could go on. It was as close to rock bottom as it gets for a club of this size. After Mikel initially took over in 2019, he simply played the type of football that that squad was capable of playing, which was a deep block and rapid counters. That’s how we won the FA cup. But that was not how he wanted to play.

    In one of his first press conferences he lays out how he wants to play: he wants the ball, he wants to be proactive in both phases, and he wants to defend from the front. I would describe his style, as concisely as possible, as a 4-3-3 JdP a la Man City but with added physicality. So how do you move the version of the squad he had in the summer of 2020 closer to that? Especially when they had several underperforming players on massive wages, few saleable assets even in a good year, and competing against a market assailed by the pandemic.

    Auba was an emotional decision. The club needed something to feel good about and the backlash after letting your captain and FA cup winner walk just months after he led your team to glory would have been gruesome. I agree this move didn’t make sense in the grand plan because he was not the type of all action forward Arteta likes. But they also needed goals, and he was a sure source of them.
    The rest of the deals they did that summer served to move our football closer to the vision laid out above, but of the many deals we did, only Thomas Partey represented the final destination.

    Willian for Ozil seems mad in a vacuum and it didn’t work out, but the idea was to bring in a harder working version of Ozil. How do you do that on a shoestring budget? You try to find a bargain, and a Bosman fits the bill. No, Willian was never a #10, but it’s not unheard of for wingers to move inside and become more of a playmaker in their latter days. It was a failed experiment, and they moved on from it quickly with the Odegaard loan in January. David Luiz from Chelsea seemed gross, but with him we gained the ability to progress the ball and resist the press, again, inching the team closer to the type of football we wanted. Gabriel Magalhaes, a physical specimen and outstanding 1 v 1 defender, meant that we could play a yard or two further forward, thus increasing the effectiveness of our press and commit more bodies further forward. Even poor old Cedric, a two footed, technically sound FB, did more for the team’s structure than Callum Chambers ever could simply because he could shimmy away from defenders and find passes between the lines. Alex Runarsson was a flop, but the idea was that as a former midfielder he can move the ball better than an academy lad and was a cheap replacement for Martinez. These were short term solutions that were meant to help the team progress toward the football Arteta wanted to play, and they were the players we could get at that time who were compatible with moving our football closer to the vision of how we wanted to play.

    The clearest example of what I’m talking about is Thomas Partey, who I believe was the single piece purchased that summer who was intended as a long term solution. Already the finished article, he was hand picked for the crucial Fabinho/Fernandinho role and we all know how important he is.

    Arsenal in 2020 was a club attempting to build something magnificent, but had to start with brick and mortar.

    1. People will point to the 8th place finish in 2020 as a sign of a lack of progress, and on the surface of it that is true. But the team was undergoing a transformation, like a moth in a chrysalis. In 2019 we finished 8th because we attacked space well and had good individual forwards who could compensate for deficiencies elsewhere. In 2020, we finished 8th because we played a mediocre version of JdP. That in and of itself is progress and did lay the foundations for the improvements in 2021 and 2022.

    2. There are many fallacies in this, too many really to respond to, but this one is just glaring WRT Willian: “How do you do that on a shoestring budget?”

      We are not and have not been on a “shoestring” budget since about 2014 and moreover, we are one of the highest spending teams in the world over the last 5 years.

      Other highlights:

      He did say he wanted to play proactive football and then we played the least proactive football (on both ends of the pitch) in the League for 18 months. We are still largely a reactive team (the proactive part has come along a bit more this year).
      Willian was never played at the 10, he was deployed wide left.
      Cedric is miles away from being “two-footed”.
      David Luiz was no better at ball progression than Mustafi and just as bad or worse at defending.
      Runarrson is a non-argument since I think we paid 5 actual dollars for him.
      Partey is a great example: when we bought him we had no idea how to play him and put him in the double-pivot with Xhaka (who we were going to sell, we were desperate to sell him) until Arteta hit on the idea to play Xhaka further up the pitch where his limitations would be covered.

      Bottom line is that it wouldn’t have taken Pep, Gasperini, Bielsa, Klopp, or any coach with a well-defined style 18-36 months to implement their style. They do it right away with the players they have and then add parts to make the team perform the style better. Arteta was learning on the job and changed the style until he’s finally hit on one that fits what he wants to do. I think from here on out, we will see this particular style develop and I’m especially eager to get rid of Xhaka and let Vieira play that role in midfield, and get rid of Thomas Partey and add a CDM who can play defense.

      I don’t see how this is at all controversial or even really a criticism. It’s a huge credit to the club that they stuck with Arteta: no other top club would have put up with the second year of his tenure. So, kudos to Arsenal for sticking with a manager who wasn’t showing much promise after his first 12 months in charge and letting him learn and grow on the job. And kudos to Arsenal giving that manager lavish spending to throw away on players who were never going to work out as he learned on the job.

      1. On Willian, he was deployed at 10 *once* – in the second half against Sheffield United at the beginning of 2020-21.

        We bizarrely started that game with Auba and Willian wide in a 433, had a horrendous first half, then moved to a 4231 with people in more natural posicions – Willian at 10, Auba up front and Pepe and Saka wide – and *actually had a decent half*, turning 0-1 to 2-1. Willian was involved in both goals.

        We then never saw that lineup again.

      2. You did not respond to the crux of the argument… do you really not see what I’m talking about? The tone here is very dismissive.

          1. I believe he would’ve done decently at 10, at a time when we had no good options there. I don’t think he spent significant time at 10.

            That’s because the manager came in with 433 in mind and couldn’t adapt quickly. He’s doing well now that he’s got the players for 433. My personal preference is a cook who can make do with different ingredients, but we’re top of the league so que sera.

          2. BTW: Odegaard’s not a “#10” in any traditional sense of the word. The “#10” position is pretty much dead.

            He plays on the right of Arsenal’s midfield, more like an 8.

        1. I’m not our financial expert but it did seem like the budget would only extend so far that summer, so yes, some players needed to be bought on a budget. There was too much to do it all in one summer.

        2. Yeah, I’m dismissive. I’m fucking tired of people trying to gaslight folks and pretend that what all of us saw for two years didn’t happen.

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