Qatar, 2022: No World Cup for me

I’m not sure whether we’ve split up for good or if we’re just taking a break. It depends on what she does next. If she changes her ways and apologizes, who knows. On the other hand, maybe too much has happened to ever get back together…

Earlier this year, I did something similar to an old friend of mine: the Winter Olympics. I hadn’t quite expected his arrival as I had recently seen his brother, the Summer Olympics, and normally they don’t visit in such short succession. But when he appeared, I instantly saw how much he had become like her, the World Cup. How can you refuse to watch Qatar 2022 but still tune in for China’s sportswashing event, when Uyghurs are still stuck in concentration camps? So I ignored the Beijing Winter Olympics as well.

It proved to be a successful rehearsal. From time to time I heard some talk medals and in the gym they sometimes had it up on the TV screen, so I did know something about it. But I didn’t mind. I didn’t watch, I didn’t contribute to a morally bankrupt sports event.

But this World Cup is a lot harder. I hadn’t been into speed skating for years, but football… I’m still interested if Oranje does well, if Kylian Mbappé can definitively be the new Ronaldo, if Belgium can finally win a prize with their aging golden generation and if a country from Africa or Asia can play an important role once more. But what fascinates me most, is how the national team of Qatar fares. In fact, maybe I miss watching them get beaten heavily even more than watching my Dutch team win. At the same time, I know that even if the Qataris lose all three of their matches 5-0, it doesn’t hurt the royal family’s PR-win much.

During the Netherlands’ matches I leave my house. At Euro 2012, when I was still working as a journalist, a football-hating colleague went cycling on a highway when Oranje played (and wrote an article about it), but that’s too risky for me. Instead, I’m walking past living rooms. Families and friends are gathered around the Christmas tree, watching the World Cup. Qatar hasn’t just changed my viewing experience, but everyone’s. In the streets, I only meet teenagers working for food delivery companies, they look at me as if I’m crazy.

Sometimes I feel like a kind of Ebenezer Scrooge, the gumpy old man who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but has a change of heart when he looks into his hometown’s living rooms. I won’t have a change of heart, and I’m also not grumpy. I chose this, and it feels good. I make sure to get home before the final whistle, though. In this weather, people probably won’t celebrate in the streets, but you never know. I don’t know why exactly, but I don’t want to join them.

Not watching is a pain in the ass, but it’s not the hardest part. Not being able to join the discussion with friends, my brothers, colleagues, and strangers when they start talking about the unavoidable subject of the World Cup, is tough. Not that I’m not interested in their opinions, but it bothers me that I can’t reply. Sometimes I pray the discussion won’t take such a turn where I’ll have to admit I don’t watch. And sometimes I fancy a bit of a debate, so I just drop the bomb. When I can’t bring my point across convincingly, I just say: “I’ve written about it, I can send you the link if you’re interested?”

There are also moments of doubt. I’ll suddenly think: well, how bad is it if I just watch this one match? Or like this post on Instagram? Am I not too strict with myself? Isn’t my statement against this World Cup a bit extreme? But, pretty quickly, this thought changes into: they forced me to make this decision. Blatter, the Al-Thani’s, Infantino, and all the football officials who could have done something but didn’t. They created this dilemma and for me the entertainment is simply not worth contributing to this tournament of death.

And of course, doubt is simply a part of splitting up. Am I the bad guy here? Don’t I want her back? What if she didn’t lie and all the gaslighting was in fact true? But when I stop to think about it, I always come to the same conclusion. If this is how it’s going to be, I don’t want to be a part of it. I’d rather cherish the memories, of DENNIS BERGKAMP, my notebook from 2006, the 7-1 in Brazil. And who knows, 2026 might add some new memories.


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