FIFA mostly wins big but loses some trust at Qatar World Cup

Even before the epic final won by Lionel Messi and Argentina, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was dubbing it “the best World Cup ever” in Qatar.

There was clear self-interest in declaring success For a tournament that has been politically charged for most of the 12 years since the wealthy emirate was chosen as host by the former FIFA leadership widely tainted by allegations of corruption..

FIFA’s primary role is to oversee the rules of world football and to ensure that the World Cup takes place on schedule: the goal is met, the billions of dollars are duly made.

As always with the most vibrant governing body in world sport, there was a lot going on.

in the field

When matches begin, the focus shifts to the pitch, and FIFA got that early on on the third day when Messi and Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia 2-1 in an upset for the ages.

A day later, Germany lost to Japan and then Brazil delighted the world in their first match against Serbia. Morocco took the lead and was the first African or Arab nation still to play in the final weekend of the World Cup.

The games were consistently compelling if not of the best quality. These weren’t old teams from Spain or the Netherlands, and they weren’t even Brazil by the time of their quarter-final exit.

Drama mounted, with simultaneous group stage matches taking Japan, South Korea and Croatia through to the last 16 and sending Germany and Belgium home.

All continents have featured teams in the knockout rounds, allowing Infantino to reiterate his claim that football “has become truly global for the first time”.

When the final was a true classic on Sunday, Argentina won on penalties After a 3-3 tie, everyone except France was left feeling like they had won.

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Policy

The World Cup was the most political. Before any game is played, there has been scrutiny of Qatar of its human rights record, and employment practices And a years-long boycott by neighboring countries in which FIFA pushed the Gulf region to participate in the tournament.

In the final weeks of preparations, Qatar has backed down more confidently against its critics – a process that FIFA joined in after teams and media arrived on site.

Infantino’s infamous “I feel like me, I feel like a migrant worker” speech November 19 hit many talking points in the host nation alleging Western hypocrisy and racism.

FIFA made private assurances to European teams about captains wearing anti-discrimination armbands; For fans around wearing rainbow symbols; To World Cup sponsor AB InBev regarding the sale of Budweiser beer with alcohol In stadiums – that are beginning to crumble. The bonds of trust were severely strained.

Pre-tournament talk about openness to support the Compensation Fund Better resources for migrant workers in Qatar were closed.

The Qatar World Cup was a state-run project and it seemed clear who was in charge.

When European women lawmakers attended the Games wearing the “One Love” armband, Middle Eastern officials began wearing a Palestinian armband.

When an Italian field fraudster offered a European activist’s messages, days later a Tunisian man did the same with a Palestinian flag.

During the tournament, basic operational details were hard to come by and most requests were ignored. The routine press briefings and conferences have not happened at past World Cups, including Russia in 2018.

“Never complain, never explain” seemed to be the guideline for the World Cup organizers.

fans

The FIFA president is often ridiculed at World Cup finals. It happened again on Sunday when Infantino was presented with cup offerings.

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Infantino was also booed when TV broadcasts showed him sitting in the VVIP seats during the England-Wales match. Both countries had badge and rainbow issues with FIFA, while the British media extensively covered expat issues.

Although Argentina and Morocco fans traveled in droves, fewer Europeans than expected came to Qatar. The pre-tournament target was 1.2 million international visitors but the official total was less than 800,000 in the final week.

However, when thousands of Moroccan fans attempted to reach an unexpected semi-final against France last Wednesday, many flights to Doha were canceled to limit the number.

Expensive accommodations like tents and cabins also seem to put off visiting visitors.

Empty seats at halftime for most games will be steadily filled. There was evidence and anecdotes of residents of Qatar who were taken to matches and offered free tickets, and the highest cheering squads for the host country were the fans brought in from Lebanon and Syria.

When the tournament attendance exceeded 3.4 million, it was not clear and no response was made whether the total included all volunteers, catering staff and security who signed on to work in the stadiums.

more money

This was a clear win for FIFA, despite the potential breach of contract issue to be resolved with AB InBev.

FIFA announced higher-than-expected revenues of $7.5 billion for the four-year commercial cycle associated with the Qatar World Cup.

The World Cup has been tougher in the past decade when new sponsors came only from Russia and Qatar – often host nations – and China while prosecutors in the United States, Switzerland and France launched corruption investigations targeting soccer officials.

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This string of late sponsors for this World Cup has included tourism in Saudi Arabia and Las Vegas, as well as companies in the online gambling, cryptocurrency and blockchain sectors.

Most of the deals are closing now and FIFA plans to take advantage of staging a bigger 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico, by offering huge domestic market sponsors and more games mostly played in high-throughput NFL stadiums.

Infantino said on Friday that FIFA’s four-year forecast would amount to $11 billion through 2026. All 211 member federations will receive millions of dollars from Zurich.

classy life

FIFA leaders can stay in the luxury Qatari hotels that opened in time for the World Cup.

One of the bases was the waterside Fairmont Hotel, which was about 40 stories tall and shaped like a curved sword. It showcased 18-karat gold tiles in the showers of some suites and a 56-meter (185-foot) chandelier in the lobby.

Combined with an unprecedented level of security at the World Cup, it has added to the sense of FIFA’s isolation in an ivory tower.

While French President Emmanuel Macron went for a short tour of the main market in Doha, Infantino never met ordinary fans.

One of Infantino’s regulars was a celebrity chef who was famous for painting gold leaf on steaks that cost hundreds of dollars at his restaurants.

The chef known as Salt BaeHe also appeared to breach World Cup protocol by holding the gold cup when joining the Argentine players on the field on Sunday for the post-match celebrations.

For seasoned FIFA watchers, he was a fitting definitive symbol of the World Cup in Qatar.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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