USMNT World Cup Daily, Day 5
It's not about the beer. It's about Qatar's rulers running this World Cup, and FIFA can't do anything about it.
DOHA, Qatar — Do you really think Qatar’s authoritarian rulers just decided today—two days before the start of the World Cup—that they weren’t going to allow alcoholic beer to be served in World Cup stadiums? I sure don’t.
But what I do know is the big take-away isn’t about beer at all. It’s that FIFA is not in control of this World Cup. Qatar’s rulers are, and that makes anything we’ve heard from FIFA or national federations speaking about, say, how Qatari security forces will treat LGBTQ visitors here should be regarded as meaningless.
So, FIFA and national federations: Don’t speak about how you’re told that everything will be OK. You really don’t know for sure, and the Qataris go out of their way not to be reassuring.
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We’re two days away from the opening game of the World Cup (Qatar-Ecuador). By all expectations, the soccer should start to take center stage with four games a day beginning on Tuesday. But the truth is that I’m less confident than ever that security forces here will avoid escalating interactions with fans—gay fans, drunk fans, protesting fans—that turn into significant incidents.
This is the trend in Qatar: People can say there are codified laws and rules, but then they don’t get observed on the ground. Qatar can pass new worker-protection laws, but as I found out speaking to workers here, many of them aren’t enforced. FIFA can develop PowerPoint presentations about how security forces should avoid escalating situations with visitors, but they can’t guarantee that will happen.
The only people truly in control here are the Qatari royal family, and that is a certifiably opaque group. The default in this country is for security people to demand that you delete a picture from your phone, even a totally innocuous picture, because that’s what happens with the people who live here, most of them migrants, when it’s not in the fantasyland of WorldCup-ville.
On Wednesday, the day after I wrote about my small incident with the phone-deletion-demanding security guard at the media center, I had a strange thing happen. I was in my house here doing a live video event with Front Office Sports, and a random person walked straight in through the door. He looked at me. I looked at him. (Remember, it’s a live video event.) It took him some time, but he turned around and left.
The most likely scenario was that he was a neighbor who had just walked into the wrong house, since all of our townhouses here look the same. But there was just enough doubt planted in my head by my own incident, the Qatari record and what we have been seeing this week that I asked myself if this guy was the police coming through my door. I hate that seed of doubt.
So what’s it going to be, Qatar? Is the soccer going to be the dominant story starting Sunday? Or are we going to keep seeing the control of this World Cup ceded to this country’s rulers?
Today’s column will be shorter than usual for a few reasons: 1) I already wrote a 3,300-word feature story today on the U.S.’s Yunus Musah, which I hope you read, 2) the USMNT players had the day off and didn’t do any media, and 3) as of right now it’s 3:26 am Doha time, and I’m really tired. But I didn’t want to break my string of daily coverage from on-site, so that’s why I’m here.
I know I said I’d answer your Mailbag questions for Friday. Don’t worry, I’ll answer them, it’ll just happen on Saturday instead.
A few things going on today:
• My housemate Guillem Balagué, who’s from Spain, was watching the hour-long livestream tonight done by Spain coach Luis Enrique on Twitch. It was quite impressive, really, he just started jabbering away and kept going and going and going. I was trying to imagine Gregg Berhalter doing something like that, and I just couldn’t.
• The poor USMNT guys who tried to eat out in public didn’t realize they’d have cameras following them:
I’m going to bed. Have a good night!
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Great stuff, Grant. Keep on it but be carefull. I doubt they would target you directly but if you're covering or just near a protest when things really kick off - and it feels like they really might, even to us distant observers - there's usually collateral damage. That's a pretty small space you all are working with.
Thanks Grant! Really enjoying all the work. Please stay safe and keep your door locked!