I haven’t been watching a lot of the World Cup this year.
Some of that is just that I don’t have much time these days. The World Cup is usually something that happens in the summer rather than the last two weeks of the semester, after all, and while I understand why they moved it to this time of year – the weather in Qatar in August is hellish – that doesn’t change the fact that I’m barely able to keep up with things I have to do at this time of year, let alone things I’d like to do.
But some of it is the simple fact that this year’s World Cup is being held in Qatar.
A couple of weeks ago Oliver asked me how the decision gets made as to where the next World Cup will be located, and I explained that it is a complicated process involving bribery, influence peddling, threats both overt and implied, and corruption on a scale that makes the Olympic Committee’s selection process look transparent. Apparently the decision to give this year’s event to Qatar was so far beyond the acceptable limits of even FIFA’s legendary malfeasance and criminal conduct that most of the people who were involved in that decision are now in jail or “out of the game,” which is a polite way of saying that they got shoveled out the door and sacrificed to the authorities before they killed the entire cash cow.
And yet the decision stood.
Also, let’s be honest, Qatar is a wasteland of human evil. It’s a place where people can be jailed or even executed for their sexual orientation (a role model for the modern American right wing that way), and it openly practices human slavery. Much like the 18th-century sugar colonies in the Caribbean, there is a large population of bound labor (euphemistically called “guest workers” or some such nonsense in this case) ruled absolutely by a thin layer of phenomenally wealthy and privileged elites. Several hundred of those “guest workers” died in the process of building the infrastructure for the World Cup. I realize that no country is perfect – and the US is not an exception to that – but the human rights abuses in Qatar are genuinely revolting by any standard of comparison.
But then I always think of the athletes themselves. They’re not the ones responsible for this situation. They go where they’re told. And it’s the absolute pinnacle of their sport – an event that has no real analogue in American sports. How much can I hold them responsible for the larger situation?
I always watch the Olympics, after all, for much the same reason.
So I’ve watched a few games. Not many – again, even if I had no issues with anything the fact is that time and energy are both in short supply this time of year. And I take a small amount of comfort knowing that I have donated no money to this cause – the games I can see were included in the various streaming services that we already pay for now that we don’t subscribe to cable anymore.
This does have its odd moments.
Most of the games are being broadcast on Fox here in the US, and you can insert your own political joke there if you want. We don’t get Fox in any of the streaming services we have, and other than the occasional sporting event I don’t miss it.
But it is being broadcast on Peacock, which I do subscribe to in order to watch the Premier League on weekend mornings. So I can watch games there.
Now, I do not speak Spanish, not really. I studied it back in middle school and high school, but that was forty years ago. At least half of my students down at Home Campus speak it as a first or second language, however, and between that and my long-ago studies there are certain words that I can pick up out of the stream of commentary. “Pelota,” for example, which means “ball,” and “otra vez,” which means “again,” and a few other words here and there. I’d like to learn the language – it would help me at my job if nothing else, and it is spoken by millions of Americans so it’s probably the most useful language after English to know in this country in general – but so far I have not actually done anything toward that goal.
So I come at this from what is essentially a position of ignorance.
This makes the commentary kind of fascinating, if not particularly useful for me actually following the game. All I really get out of it is tone and rhythm, interspersed with the few words I recognize and the occasional player name, and if you’ve ever sat down and tried to listen to a language you don’t understand the first thing that you learn is that it is very hard to figure out where the words begin and end. It all sort of sounds like one long word (interspersed with rolled r’s, in this case) until you get to something you recognize. As things get more exciting on the pitch the tone will rise and the phonemes will come faster and faster and then somebody will score and the classic 60-to-120-second-long announcement thereof will immediately follow and I know where I am at that point, sort of like stumbling onto a landmark in an unfamiliar city where you’re a tourist.
It all ends up sounding kind of like this:
As should be obvious from that, very little of what I can process is actual Spanish – it’s just the vaguely-Spanish-sounding flow of phonemes that this monolingual English speaker hears – but it is all very entertaining and I’m enjoying that part of the broadcasts immensely.
It’s been a strange World Cup overall, from what I’ve been able to tell. The Germans, Danes, and Belgians didn’t make the knockout round, but the US and Australia did. Italy didn’t even qualify. Iran beat Wales, Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, Cameroon beat Brazil, Tunisia beat France, and Japan beat Spain.
So we’ll see how it goes now that we’re in the knockout round.
I'll be glad to get back to the Premier League, though.