sport news The Plastic World Cup: One week in, it's clear that behind the facade lies a ... trends now
There is no World Cup artefact more iconic than the Argentina shirt Diego Maradona wore when he applied the ‘Hand of God’ in 1986 but like everything else in Qatar, it is a commodity — bought for £7million from the former England international Steve Hodge at a Sotheby’s London auction six months ago, to sit in an exhibition at this tournament.
The scene yesterday morning outside the Khalifa International Stadium, which exhibits this legendary jersey, said everything about the confected and artificial nature of this plastic World Cup. A crowd of 20 people, this correspondent included, gathered to see it, having paid £23 — yes, £23 — for a digital ticket which came with orders to arrive at the appointed hour.
There were Germans, Mexicans, Irish, Tunisian, an Argentina-supporting Indian and others. All football mad. Most wearing replica shirts. Yet there was to be no access.
An utterly unfathomable World Cup security rule decrees that ticketholders must be driven just a few hundred yards from some turnstiles, across the stadium perimeter, to see the shirt at the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum. The bus had broken down. An alternative could not be found in a city swarming with World Cup shuttles. Access would not be allowed all day.
The frustration was compounded by the fact that the uniformed officials relating all this returned to the shade of their positions while the crowd, including a child, waited in the burning heat.
A female security official walked out from the shade and said: ‘You’re only allowed to go on the bus.’ A male security official emerged from the shade to say: ‘We are preparing to speak to the Supreme Committee.’ An exhibition official in a red track suit emerged from the shade to say: ‘Please come back tomorrow.’
There was little point arguing with these members of the vast tournament security force because they are officials only in name. Immigrant workers, thrown together into a unit designed to give an air of authority, who cannot deviate from their orders. A place in the shade was not on their list. The crowd just drifted away.
Infrastructure issues have hit Qatar, like unbuilt accommodation at Rawdat Al Jahhaniya
Diego Maradona's 1986 World Cup shirt is meant to be one of the exhibits in Qatar this year
It was evidence, if any were needed, that this is a football tournament in name alone. Qatar wanted the kudos and global recognition of hosting the greatest show on earth but, one week in, it is clear that behind the facade of this glorified football theme park lies a monumental pretence.
The official attendance figures are just one of the fictions, exploded by the deserted concourses before Wales v Iran on Friday and the empty seats at Portugal v Ghana the day before.
They have thrown migrant workers at everything. They sit in uniforms and water the grass on lawns at spots on the Corniche, where no-one walks. They stand in turquoise ‘Event Team’ tops, with huge foam fingers and megaphones blasting out pre-recording messages —‘Metro this way’ — from morning to night. Often when no one is there.
In a cricket stadium at Asian Town, an entertainment and retail complex built for immigrant workers, there is a FIFA Fanzone for the people who have actually built this infrastructure, whose salaries do not remotely stretch to buying a ticket.
Signs in the street in Arabic and English state: ‘Thanks for your contributions for delivering the best FIFA World Cup ever.’ The food stalls were open and music was playing yesterday lunchtime for a midday start. The place