FIFA president Sepp Blatter struck a populist tone on Tuesday when he addressed an audience at the Asian Football Confederation awards in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Speaking as to the ongoing criticism of his organization’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the 77-year-old told delegates it wasn’t "fair" for international media, and "especially European media," to train their focus so exclusively on an Arab country.
"We have taken a decision to play a World Cup in the Arabic world," he said, as per The Guardian. "We have taken the decision to play in Qatar and we will go and play...in 2022 in Qatar."
It wasn’t the first time Blatter had taken an anti-Europe position in defending the controversial 2022 event, which continues to be censured because of Qatar’s LGBT laws, treatment of migrant workers and seasonal issues that will likely move the tournament from the traditional June-July calendar block to one between November and February.
In an interview with insideworldfootball.com in September, he remarked that Europe had no right to dictate to the 6.2 billion non-European inhabitants of the planet, adding: "I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will onto others in far-away places."
Later on Tuesday Blatter added some context to his statements via his Twitter account, reminding his followers that "Asia has huge football [development] potential, with 2/3 of [the world’s] population."
It was a pronouncement almost identical to the one he made at the 2011 edition of the Asian Football Confederation awards in Kuala Lumpur when he said: "Asia contains two-thirds of the world’s population and has incredible potential. A strong Asia is good for world football." (FIFA.com)
Still, he has not been able to escape the criticism volleyed at the 2022 World Cup from both the media and various humanitarian organizations.
Since September, the International Trade Union Confederation has been warning that, given their current conditions, at least 4,000 migrant workers employed at World Cup venues would die during the construction process. (AP)
And while Blatter has admitted FIFA are "part of this responsibility," he has also placed a share of blame at the feet of the construction companies operating in Qatar.
"The big companies working there, they are all European," he told the Associated Press last week. "The constructor is also responsible for his workers."
He might also have pointed out that in June 2012, more than a year before The Guardian described the plight of Qatar’s migrant workers in such heart-wrenching detail, an almost identical report was published by Al Jazeera.
Of course, it took the magnitude of the World Cup—and the focus it brought to the region—to bring the story of the migrant-worker sponsorship program, known as kafala, into the broader public consciousness.
To that effect, Blatter was quite right when he remarked on Tuesday that "Football has also got now a political dimension." (The Guardian)
But rather than being a force for social change, as some seem to think football should be, it should rather be seen as a window through which to look at the world as it is and, from there, decide what to do about it.
FIFA’s decisions to this point have been muddled, careless and costly. But nothing was ever inherently wrong with bringing the World Cup to the Gulf region.
After all, if the event was to be limited to Western-style republic and constitutional monarchies that operate exclusively and enthusiastically by due process and the rule of law, and that treat all inhabitants equally and with dignity, FIFA would soon run out of places to put it.
If it could even find one.
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