NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
To the horror of many people – mostly women, I have to say – the World Cup takes off for a month this coming Sunday.
If there are avid football fans who live in a house with only one television and there is the opportunity to watch at least three matches a day, or four even, and they take it up with enthusiasm, there are many who would consider this to be a form of domestic abuse. And who would blame them?
There are plenty of others who would disagree with them on the grounds that this was a form of escapism that would take people’s minds off the ongoing horror story that is UK and Scottish politics, and even the scandalous war being pursued by Putin in Ukraine.
But … and there is always a but with these things … there is a growing movement even at this stage, the eleventh hour if you like, to scrap the whole sorry business, which has brought a flood of opprobrium and even accusations of fraud, down on the heads of the ultra conservative, fundamentalist Muslim government of Qatar.
We should all cheer loudly should that happen, even if Scotland were playing in it, which of course they are not, and even if there was any prospect of our team flying into Edinburgh Airport at the end of it with captain John McGinn, pictured left, on their shoulders proudly holding aloft the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy, which there is not.
So, where’s the fraud? Alcohol will not be sold at the World Cup’s eight stadiums after Fifa changed its policy this morning, two days before the start of the tournament “in select areas within stadiums”, despite its sale being strictly controlled in Qatar.
Those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol, so the punters in the most expensive seats will be able to have a beer with their prawn sandwiches.
This must be a huge disappointment for Budweiser, a major sponsor of Fifa, is owned by beer maker AB InBev and had exclusive rights to sell beer at the World Cup.
It appears the fizz has gone out of it for them.
“Following discussions between host country authorities and Fifa, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Fifa fan festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s Fifa World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters,” said a statement from world football’s governing body.
“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.
“Host country authorities and Fifa will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans.
“The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Budweiser posted a message on Twitter on Friday saying, “Well, this is awkward” before the post was later deleted.
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) criticised the timing of the decision to ban the sale of beer for most fans.
“Some fans like a beer at a game and some don’t, but the real issue is the last minute U-turn which speaks to a wider problem – the total lack of communication and clarity from the organising committee towards supporters,” said an FSA spokesperson.
“If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues.”
In August, Fifa changed the start date of the World Cup so that the first game of the competition would be Qatar facing Ecuador.
The game was scheduled to be played on 21 November as the third game, with Senegal against the Netherlands which was set to be the opening match earlier that day.
And who says nobody cares apart from the so-called moaners and begrudgers in the minority groups who are complaining about restrictions on alcohol and intolerance of same sex relationships?
Feelings are beginning to run high though and there was a even a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.
Labour’s Paul O’Kane, pictured left, raised the matter in stoppage time when he told MSPs: “On Sunday, international teams will begin to compete for the biggest prize in world football, but they will do so in a state that denies the rights of LGBT+ people, suppresses the rights of women and has demonstrated quite clearly that it has no regard for the lives or well-being of migrant workers.
“Only a few weeks ago, Qatar’s world cup ambassador branded being gay as ‘damage in the mind’. Senior figures of the Scottish Football Association will be attending world cup events on the day the tournament kicks off. LGBT+ people, many of whom are passionate football fans, our allies in stands across the country, the tartan army, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Zander Murray of Gala Fairydean Rovers, of whom I think we should all be immensely proud, have voiced concern and disapproval about this world cup and have called on the SFA to think again.”
He added: “The SFA has said that it is ‘supportive of all measures to improve human rights conditions in Qatar’, but does the First Minister believe that members of our football governing body attending this world cup can send any other message than a validation of the human rights record of Qatar, and what message does she think that it sends to LGBT+ people, in particular, in Scotland?”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s response to these accusations was what soccer scribes would describe as being of the powder puff variety, or even shirking the tackle.
She said: “First, I think that it is a really important moment for all of us, regardless of party or anything else that might divide us, to stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ community in Scotland, in the United Kingdom, in Europe and right across the world. I hope that that will unite all of us.
“The attendance or otherwise of SFA officials is a matter for the SFA. Governments should not intervene in decisions that sports governing bodies take, but I would certainly hope that anybody attending the world cup in Qatar in any capacity will take the opportunity to express solidarity with our LGBT+ community.
“I think that, over the next few weeks, it is even more important than sport that we take the opportunity to stand up for human rights and the dignity of those in that community, and that we unite around that sentiment today and right throughout the period of the competition in Qatar.”
So, as far as the First Minister, pictured right, is concerned, Scotland backs the World Cup. The First Minister said this, so it must be true. There is no AVR in place to change this SNP decision.
Pity that. The Renton team which is reputed to have won the World Cup at the end of the century before last would be dismayed. Dismayed utterly.
The Renton team which is reputed to have won the first World Cup in a match against West Bromwich Albion back in the 19th century.