x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fifa pushing the envelope with Qatar choice

A dramatic announcement in Zurich transcends the boundaries of football and of sport. Can that be a bad thing?

Doha residents take to the streets last night to celebrate the announcement that the 2022 World Cup will be hosted by Qatar. 
Marwan Naamani / AFP
Doha residents take to the streets last night to celebrate the announcement that the 2022 World Cup will be hosted by Qatar. Marwan Naamani / AFP
As the envelope cracked open in Zurich, the minds were about to crack open in the world.

As the enclosed paper whooshed upward into clear view from the pull of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, a region of the world whooshed toward clearer view for the rest of the planet.

And as enough of that paper materialised to reveal its middle and the brief block lettering that spelled "QATAR" rather than the longer script necessary to spell "UNITED STATES" or "AUSTRALIA," all possibility itself had materialised from behind another barrier and trickled giddily into another frontier.

A World Cup to Qatar in 2022 goes to illuminate the Gulf region and to flatter the visionaries, those people you run across from time to time who can seem nutty until they are not, who in this case come from Qatar and, yes, even from Fifa.

Certainly history asks us to lampoon Fifa, to giggle at its self-importance and to watch a stately Zurich drama of last evening mindful of the longstanding undergrowth of farcical corruption. Yet somehow in one crucial way, the emergence of the word "QATAR" managed to transcend all of that and then, while busy transcending, surpass football and even sport.

It scaled all those things to deal another whack to stuffy old thinking, to send cobwebs hurtling all over the planet and to lurch into the broader areas of geopolitics, possibility and global continuity.

For a bedraggled old brigade like Fifa, that is something else.

The 22 voters pared from an original 24 via scandal not only proved frontiersmen audacious enough to aim both for giant Russia in 2018 and tiny Qatar in 2022. They not only owned up to their concept of stretching the game to all corners. They not only showed enough intestines to answer Qatar 2022 chief executive Hassan Al Thawadi's challenge that they take a "bold gamble."

No, they went around shooing away outdated ideas.

The idea that gumdrop countries should not think large thoughts has gone, as the World Cup heads to a nation with only 240,000 Qataris among 1.6 million inhabitants. The idea that newfangled, inexperienced countries should not get a chance at such a stage has gone, as a World Cup goes to a country born in 1971 and whose national team has not appeared in a World Cup.

The idea that the United States should get what it wants based on earnings potential continues to ebb, even as some of its fans appear on TV proclaiming inability to pronounce the proper noun "Qatar." The sense that varying cultural ideals on the Earth cannot find enough common ground to mesh for a month of football has dissipated, even as the meshing will make for some intriguing scenarios.

And the idea that such events should remain beholden to a little old consideration like climate? Even that has gone, with Fifa overlooking Qatar's 48-degree impediments of June because maybe human beings can surmount even that, a bit of thinking that could have ramifications in broader life.

Who, after all, has not yearned occasionally for an air-conditioned sidewalk?

Towering above all of the above, still, could be the idea of one of the world's two gargantuan sporting events coming to the Middle East. As that sportsman Vladimir Putin called Russia's acceptance for 2018 "a sign of trust," so it goes for Qatar and the Middle East in 2022, a rare chance to use the common bridge of sport for what Qatar bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani called "a new image of the Middle East, far away from cliches and closer to reality."

Seldom has one envelope contained so much heft. No wonder Blatter fumbled with it a bit before yanking upward.

Once he yanked, the outdated ideas toppled to leave in sight the cluster of people who bucked them. They dared to pursue a World Cup in Qatar, a country of which so many earthlings remain unaware. They sought a World Cup that would not work without the technological prospects to combat searing heat, and they sought it in the Middle East, a region which had held neither a World Cup nor an Olympics.

They must have heard untold doubts even as their capital felt relevant in mid-November with a world sport conference and an Argentina-Brazil friendly, until last evening the envelope cracked open in Zurich and the world said, Viva heat.

So after Sheikh Mohammed's emotional speech to Blatter that cluster of humans must have had one exhilarated Swiss evening. After all, not many people get to celebrate having coaxed the world into changing just that little bit more.