“WHAT THE HELL ARE WE ALL DOING HERE?”: MEDIA CONFRONTS MORAL DILEMMAS AND COVERAGE QUIRKS AT QATAR WORLD CUP
Reporters and broadcasters who cover a World Cup often don’t get a chance to unpack their luggage. The assignment is one that typically sends them hurtling from one airport to another, exploring the vast expanse of a host nation, rarely dwelling in one place for long. Barney Ronay, the chief sports writer for The Guardian, took 17 flights over the course of 30 days while covering the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. John Strong, the lead play-by-play soccer announcer for Fox Sports, likes to joke that he earned “silver status on Siberian airways” four years ago when the competition was held in Russia. “We were constantly on the move,” said Strong, who will be part of the team covering the United States’ opening match on Monday against Wales. “We would call a game, drive to the airport, and be on a 1 a.m. departure, and then connect through Moscow to go to the next city.”카지노사이트
This year’s World Cup in Qatar, which kicked off Sunday, will pose no such travel burdens. Visiting media personnel will take only two flights––one for arrival and one for departure. The eight stadiums hosting matches are all within a 35-mile radius of Doha, situated in and around the capital city. “The biggest change is how we’ll be living and existing,” said Jon Champion, who will provide play-by-play commentary for the British broadcaster ITV. This will be the first World Cup held in winter, a move to avoid Qatar’s stifling summer heat, and Champion says it will also be the first where he won’t be living out of his suitcase. “I’ll be able to set up camp in a hotel room in the middle of Doha, and I will return there every night regardless of where I’ll be calling my game,” said Champion, who’s covered every men’s World Cup since Italia ’90. “The longest journey I’ll face is 40 minutes.”
Those logistical anomalies offer some practical advantages––a less hectic itinerary will free up more time to take in the action on the field––but that might be the only easy part about covering the 2022 World Cup, where the assembled journalists in Qatar are finding it nearly impossible to treat it like another sporting event. This year’s edition of the tournament will test those in sports media who have strained to avoid politics in an era when sports are increasingly and explicitly political.
“We, as an outlet, have a responsibility to cover the tournament, top to bottom, and that’s not just the soccer side of it,” said Paul Tenorio, the national soccer reporter for The Athletic, who is covering his first World Cup in Qatar.
The decision to hold the tournament in the tiny Gulf state has been shrouded by allegations of bribery, and the staging of the event has come to be regarded as a human rights tragedy. Qatar’s treatment of its migrant workers, who built the stadiums and transportation infrastructure that will be used for the World Cup, has drawn international condemnation. A report published last year by The Guardian found that 6,500 of those workers had died since the country was selected in 2010 to host the tournament.
There are also concerns over how the host nation will treat its visitors. Homosexuality is outlawed in Qatar, although, according to The Guardian, law enforcement has reportedly agreed to show restraint when confronted with public displays of affection from those in the LGBTQ community. Members of the press may not be afforded such leniency. Organizers have imposed restrictions on where and what media outlets can document, prohibiting filming or photography of residential properties, private businesses, and government facilities. The government’s hardline posture has already led to incidents. Last week Qatari security officials interrupted a Danish television crew’s live shot on the streets of Doha and threatened to break their camera equipment; organizers for the World Cup later apologized and said it was a mistake.
“There’s a genuine hostility between media, fans, and host nation that I’ve never known before,” said Ronay, who is covering his third men’s World Cup this year. “It’s not supposed to be like this.” Ronay is concerned that there could be more incidents between journalists and the Qatari authorities, but he also believes the fraught atmosphere makes it impossible for the media to cover the event strictly through the prism of sport. “There is only one story,” Ronay said, “and the story is: ‘What the hell are we all doing here?’”
Smaller in total area than Connecticut and with fewer people than Kansas, Qatar is easily dwarfed by the 17 countries to previously host the World Cup. “It’s just crazy when you look at the history of where this tournament has been played––Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Mexico––all these really prominent football nations,” said Sam Wallace, the chief football writer for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. “Then there’s Qatar. It just stands out.”
Wallace was in Zurich that night in 2010 when FIFA stunned the sporting world with its selection of Qatar, making it the first country in the Middle East to host the tournament. Qatar spent the next 12 years building around $220 billion worth of new infrastructure, including stadiums for the tournament and an underground metro. “Everything is new,” said The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal, who is staying in an apartment with Tenorio outside of Doha. The ground floor of the apartment building features a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Krispy Kreme, both of which just opened. “It feels sort of like a country that’s being unboxed for a World Cup,” Stejskal said.
The new infrastructure was built by Qatar’s population of migrant workers, most of whom come from South Asia. There are nearly 3 million people in the country, but only 300,000 of those are Qatari citizens. The rest are expatriates hailing from the likes of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. Wallace arrived in Doha earlier this month, well before most of his colleagues. He spent those first few days exploring the city on one of the many available e-scooters. On one of his first nights, Wallace came upon a large gathering of Argentina fans, nearly all of whom were Indian expats. As he continued on, Wallace saw another group of Indian expats, but this time they wore the colors of Brazil. “I think I’ve met one Qatari national,” Wallace said. “Most of the people you bump into are migrant workers.”
There was a similar scene last week when hundreds of ostensible England fans, mostly Indian expatriates, gathered at the team’s hotel, prompting accusations that they were paid to generate a spirited atmosphere. World Cup organizers pushed back forcefully against those claims, but there is precedent for similar arrangements. When Doha hosted the World Athletics Championships in 2019, organizers shuttled in migrant workers and schoolchildren to bolster the event’s sluggish attendance. (FIFA said last month that nearly 3 million tickets had been sold for this year’s World Cup.)
For those on the ground in Qatar, it is hard to disentangle the pageantry of the World Cup from those who toiled to make it possible. Stejskal attended a training session for the US team in Doha, where players and coaches had a kick-about with a group of migrant workers. FIFA organizers framed the meet-and-greet as a show of gratitude for the workers and their contributions to the World Cup, but it was impossible for Stejskal to look past the unsavory elements.
“That, to me, was an encapsulation of the entire tournament,” Stejskal said. “On a micro level, if you take out the context, it’s a fun and happy thing. But when you actually think about everything that’s going on, that fun and happy thing has a much darker side.”
Stejskal, covering his first World Cup, said he’s compartmentalizing the experience, separating his excitement for the competition from his squeamishness over the way it came together. “I’m trying to separate the art from the artist,” he said.
Other fans of the game have been forced into a similar bargain, as global football has been upended this century by the entrance of a number of Middle Eastern petro states. Manchester City has become the most dominant club in England thanks to the largess of its owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. Another English club, Newcastle United, was purchased last year by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The Qataris, empowered by their country’s control of one of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, have been players on this front too. Qatar’s state-run shareholding organization owns Paris Saint-Germain, a team of galacticos headlined by Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, and Neymar.
Those takeovers are widely seen as textbook cases of “sportswashing,” whereby a country with a tarnished image uses a beloved game to launder its reputation. The 2022 World Cup may be the ultimate expression of that. “Sports and the geopolitical power of these tournaments are indivisible,” said Wallace. “This is a tournament that was brought here for the glorification of a very tiny, very wealthy nation-state that has preoccupations with its standing in the world. That’s why we’re here. There is not a chance we would be here if not for the politics of sport.” 바카라사이트
Qatari officials have hit back at the scrutiny surrounding the tournament, accusing some critics of racism and Islamophobia. Others have observed a double standard in the condemnations of Qatar. Piers Morgan, who has said he’ll be attending the games as a Fox pundit, questioned the consistency of those protesting the host of this year’s World Cup. “Once you start putting your moral halo on, where does this stop and who is morally clean enough to actually host a World Cup?” Morgan said in an interview on a British podcast last week, bringing up the “draconian” abortion laws in the United States and the invasion of Iraq.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino echoed those sentiments over the weekend. In a fiery press conference on the eve of the tournament’s opening match, Infantino defended Qatar and chastised Western critics for their “hypocrisy.” He added, “I think for what we Europeans have been doing around the world for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons,” Infantino said.
Qatar has said that more than 12,000 journalists have been accredited to cover the World Cup, some of whom are content to stick to sports. Fox, which paid FIFA $425 million for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the United States, has signaled that it has little appetite to wade into the off-field controversies.
“If a story affects the field of play, if it affects the competition in the tournament, we will cover it fully,” David Neal, the executive producer of Fox’s World Cup presentation, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “If it doesn’t, if it’s ancillary to the tournament, if it has to do with the construction of the venues or what have you, we’re going to leave that to other entities to cover. Our focus is entirely on the 64-game tournament.” Neal said that fans prefer it that way too, telling the Inquirer that “viewers come to Fox Sports during the World Cup to see the greatest sports event in the world.”
World Cup organizers clearly hope broadcasters stick to sports. Earlier this month, Infantino and FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura sent a letter to all 32 teams competing in the World Cup, urging them to “focus on football” and avoid being “dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
When we spoke earlier this month, two days before he flew to Doha, Fox Sports’s Strong said the requirements of his job precluded him from addressing much beyond the match itself. “One of the key things they teach you when you’re a play-by-play broadcaster is to talk about what’s on the screen,” said Strong, who will call the World Cup final for Fox next month. “While the game is going on, it is difficult to get into other stuff.”
Strong spoke obliquely about the controversies surrounding the tournament, calling them “important topics” and praising the “really important journalism” that has been done on the matters. “I think all of us have our opinions,” said Strong. Indeed, Strong and other play-by-play commentators like Champion have a primary directive to inform viewers about and contextualize the events on the field. “It would be very dangerous to go into this as a broadcaster on some sort of crusade,” said Champion. But in Qatar, the controversy will never be far removed from the competition itself. Champion said he would be “very surprised to go through the entire World Cup and not be in some way forced into that territory.” A number of players are expected to wear rainbow armbands as a repudiation of Qatar’s anti-gay policies, which Champion said would demand an on-air mention. And any reference to the sites of the matches could nudge an announcer into thorny terrain.
“Normally, you go into these broadcasts and you wax lyrical about how marvelous the setting is for the game and what a wonderful job they’ve done on the stadium,” Champion said. “How do you do that when you know that at the same time you’ve got such a controversy raging about the conditions of the migrant workers who actually built this wonderful cathedral?”
Fox made a point to stray from the political when it broadcast the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which was also accompanied by international criticism over the host country’s human rights record. The veteran American soccer writer Grant Wahl was part of Fox’s coverage in Russia. When his contract with the network was up in 2019, Wahl said he chose to not pursue an extension.
“It was largely because of what I had seen with their approach in Russia, and knowing that their approach to Qatar would be very similar,” Wahl said. Wahl noted that NBC’s Mike Tirico provided candid and critical analysis of China’s human rights record earlier this year during the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. “They didn’t put their heads in the sand like Fox is with Qatar,” Wahl said.
Wahl had hosted a podcast with the former US soccer star Landon Donovan throughout the United States’ qualification for the World Cup, and they had planned to continue the series during the tournament in Qatar. But after Donovan joined Fox’s broadcasting team, Wahl said, the network blocked him from continuing to work on the podcast. A Fox spokesperson did not respond for comment.
Wahl arrived in Qatar last week for what will be his eighth men’s World Cup, and his third time visiting the country. He first went there in 2013 while working for Sports Illustrated to do a story on the country’s preparations to host the tournament, interacting mostly with Qatari officials throughout the visit. “What I realized during that trip was that once they knew I was here, they wanted to schedule me out so I was so busy during my stay that I wouldn’t have any time to do independent reporting,” he said.
Wahl, who now writes for his own independent website, returned to Qatar earlier this year for another reporting trip, but this time he recalibrated his approach. He didn’t speak to any government officials, nor did he publicize his location on social media. Instead, Wahl spent his visit interviewing migrant workers. He wanted to find out if the country had made good on a number of reforms designed to give a greater level of protection to those workers. “It was pretty clear that several of these laws were not being followed on the ground,” Wahl said. “In my experience, Qatar almost treats the workers like they’re invisible.” The Qatari government did not respond for comment.
Wahl was motivated to report on the subject then because, as he said, “once the tournament starts, I expect that most of my stuff will be about soccer.” It may prove more challenging to cover those topics over the next month too. Wahl has already run afoul of the Qatari authorities since he arrived last week. While in the media accreditation center, he said, he was admonished by a security official for taking a photo of a slogan displayed on the wall. Wahl said the official told him to delete it from his phone.
That encounter, along with the incident involving the Danish TV crew, has only raised fears that the host nation will interfere with the media’s ability to report freely on the event. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders have denounced the Qatari government’s restrictions on where outlets can film.
It also adds more bleakness to an event that has historically been defined by its carnival atmosphere. Photos of the fan villages, where visitors will sleep in plastic tents and rooms that resemble shipping containers, have evoked comparisons to Fyre Festival. The compact nature of this year’s tournament will make it less of an odyssey compared to the traditional World Cup–going experience, in which visitors are offered a grand sweep of a country’s varying cultures and geography. “To me, it seems like it’s going to be a World Cup without the vivid colors,” said Champion. “I think one place is going to look very much like another.”
It is already guaranteed to be the least boozy World Cup. Alcohol is highly restricted in the conservative Muslim country, and it’s normally only permitted in a few designated hotels and restaurants. Wahl, who is staying in a townhouse with three other journalists covering the World Cup, lamented that he wouldn’t be able to grab a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer after a long workday. “I literally can’t have alcohol in my house,” he said. Qatari organizers pulled an eleventh hour change on Friday, only two days before the opening match, when they abruptly announced a ban on beer sales at the stadiums. Alcohol sales will now only be allowed at the FIFA Fan Festival and other designated locations. But as he embarks on his ninth men’s World Cup, Champion remains bullish on its capacity to generate joy. “The World Cup always produces,” he said. “It’s yet to let us down.”온라인카지노