As I am writing this, both England and the US have qualified for the round of 16 stage of the Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar, which has come under a barrage of criticism for its human rights record, especially its treatment of migrant workers, women and LGBT.
Anyway, this article is not about criticising the host country. Nor is it to defend the tiny but rich Gulf nation. As a football fan, I am tired of the endless debates and discussions over the controversies surrounding the sporting mega-event in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern nation to host the tournament. In fact, it’s making me feel nostalgic for the 1998 World Cup in France, as well as the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
I was 11 years old when Zinedine Zidane scored twice at the Stade de France to help Les Bleus beat Brazil 3-0 in the final and win their first World Cup. In the same tournament, we also saw Gabriel Batistuta’s hat-trick, Michael Owen’s brilliant solo goal, David Beckham’s red card, Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder goal and the rise of Davor Šuker.
Four years later, Ronaldo Nazário scored two unanswered goals against Germany at the International Stadium in Yokohama, to help Brazil win their fifth World Cup. That year, we also witnessed Beckham’s redemption, Ronaldinho’s lob, Ahn Jung-hwan’s golden goal against Italy and the rise of Miroslav Klose.
In the blink of an eye, it’s been 24 years since Ricky Martin recorded his euphoric The Cup of Life (La Copa de la Vida), the official song for the World Cup held in France. With the catchy chorus of “Go, go, go! Ale, ale, ale!” that is still stuck in our heads, the song was heard all over the world, regardless of race, religion or nation.
And, it’s been two decades since Vangelis — the late Greek composer who died in May this year at the age of 79 — created the official anthem for the quadrennial football tournament in 2002, which was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. His masterpiece, Anthem, is one of the most beautiful sports anthems ever composed in musical history. Featuring traditional South Korean and Japanese musical instruments, coupled with his use of synthesisers in an orchestral fashion, the anthem evoked a feeling of world unity and ignited a great passion for the game.
Back then, there was no smartphone, no internet. Friends and family members would just gather round to watch the match on their traditional analogue TV sets. I still remember that before tobacco advertising was banned in Malaysia, Dunhill was the sole official sponsor of the TV broadcasts of the World Cup here.
It was a simpler time, not just for the football fans, but also for the players. For glory and pride, players went to the World Cup to play football. They were there to make their nations proud, not to make any political statement.
Fast forward to today, and we are seeing Western hypocrisy at its best in Qatar.
Despite Fifa warnings, England striker Harry Kane was among the captains of nine European nations planning to wear the “One Love” rainbow armbands in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are forbidden. Meanwhile, Germany’s players covered their mouths for the team photo before their opening match to protest against Fifa, following the governing body’s clampdown on the armband. If these players feel so strongly about the issues in Qatar, they shouldn’t have gone there in the first place. After all, Qatar is a sovereign and independent state. It’s their law, their rules, simple as that.
The Westerners should really stop forcing their ideologies down the Eastern world’s throat. It is just pure arrogance. Just play the game and go home. Stop trying to change the world. Fight your cause in other places.
Football is supposed to make the whole world come together, albeit briefly, and not make us more divisive than we already are.
Seriously, please take me back to the simpler times. I just miss those good old days.
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