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The World Cup Is a Feeling, One That Money Can’t Buy


The excellent news is that it’s a yes from the big, fire-breathing spider. It is tough, in spite of everything, to assume a World Cup without its finest tradition: 50 tons of decommissioned crane arranged into the form of a monstrous arachnid, pumped stuffed with highly flammable fuel after which stocked with hopefully less flammable D.J.s.

The spider will form the centerpiece of one in every of the cultural highlights of this winter’s World Cup in Qatar: a monthlong electronic music festival called the Arcadia Spectacular, staged just south of Doha and boasting what the promotional material calls an “electrifying atmosphere, extraordinary sculpted stages and essentially the most immersive shows on earth.”

The thought has been modeled, fairly transparently, on England’s Glastonbury Festival — the spider itself has been an everyday feature there for a decade — and, though it was only announced at a comparatively late stage in preparations for the World Cup, organizers expect it to attract some 200,000 fans. Every one in every of them ought to be warned: They may, it seems, be “mesmerized late into the night.”

The spider, though, is not going to be alone, which presumably generally is a problem when you find yourself a nightmarish metallic behemoth.

The Arcadia Spectacular just isn’t the one music festival to be tacked on to Qatar 2022. There shall be one other at Al Wakrah, hosted by an organization called MDLBEAST: you may tell it can be cutting-edge, since it’s in block capital letters and likewise has done away with a few of its vowels, essentially the most old-fashioned style of letter.

Those events, though, form only an element of the entertainment tapestry on offer to fans over the course of the tournament. There’s Al Maha Island, with its ice-skating rink, its circus and its theme park; Lusail, the first-ever city built for a World Cup, where the central boulevard will feature “vehicle parades” and futuristic light shows; the Doha Corniche, 4 miles of roving street performers and “carnival atmosphere”; and, after all, the beach clubs, the fan park and, around every stadium for each game, the catchily named “Last Mile Cultural Activation.”

Qatar, in other words, has been pretty much as good as its word: It promised it will placed on a show, and it has delivered. No expense has been spared. No stone has been left unturned. Its plans for what could be termed the tournament experience are grand, and bold, and spectacular.

It’s only a shame that they aren’t, in any way, reflective of what fans want or need, and that they so betray such a fundamental misunderstanding — on the a part of each the local organizers and, more damningly, FIFA itself — of what it’s that makes a World Cup special.

It just isn’t the soccer that makes the World Cup, probably not. There are occasions that the games are breathtaking and nail-biting and heartbreaking, after all, when what happens on the sphere is etched on to the collective memory like a shiny, lasting tattoo or an aching scar. But more often it’s something more ethereal. The World Cup, at heart, is a sense.

Essentially the most memorable thing about Russia, 4 years ago, for instance, was not the French team that emerged victorious. It was not the Croatia side that carried a nation of 5 million to the cusp of ultimate glory. It was not even the sight of Germany, the reigning champion, crashing out within the group stage, or the baffling self-immolation of Spain.

No, what made Russia 2018 — particularly now, given all that has happened, given how unreal that month within the sun now feels — was Nikolskaya, the road in central Moscow that became a hub for fans from all around the world, stuffed with flags and bunting and song. It was the sight of 1000’s upon 1000’s of Peruvians on the streets of Saransk, a red sash across their hearts. It was the sense that, even in an unlimited land of steppe and mountain and forest, you were never greater than six feet from a Colombian.

That joy, that sense of togetherness, does not only touch those in attendance. It spreads like a smile to the numerous, many more watching at home. It provides not only the soundtrack to the games however the backdrop, too. It turns stadiums from sterile bowls into something crammed with life. It takes a mere soccer tournament and turns it into an event. It can’t be forced. It can’t be commanded into an existence. It has to gestate, develop, ferment.

There are a lot of reasons to criticize the thought of a World Cup in Qatar. At first, there are the continuing concerns about human rights, the queasy amorality of a tournament built by and on indentured labor. There’s the troubling uncertainty, too, over quite how welcome gay fans could be, over whether this truly shall be a tournament for everybody.

But though it pales in significance to those issues, it’s value pausing to think about what form of World Cup this could be, too, since it is there that it is feasible to glimpse most clearly not only who Qatar — and particularly FIFA — thinks the world’s biggest sporting event is for, but what it’s.

It was in August, three months before the tournament was scheduled to begin, that Qatar announced the Arcadia Spectacular, complete with its horrifying steel tarantula. It seemed odd to unveil such a serious addition to the slate at such short notice, but there was a distinctly last-minute air to much of the World Cup. It’s as if all of the trouble, the entire energy, was poured into securing the tournament and constructing the stadiums, in order that only on the last moment did anyone wonder about all of the individuals who might turn up to observe.

Nowhere is that clearer than within the accommodations which can be alleged to house the million or so fans expected to attend in November and December. Even now, lower than two months out, not the entire lodging being prepared for the tournament is obtainable to book, for the superb reason that not all of it is prepared.

After which there’s the fee. The tournament’s organizers insist that Qatar has a “comfortable inventory for fans”: there’ll, they are saying, be “as much as” 130,000 rooms to deal with fans every night of the tournament. There’s “something to suit everyone,” too, with options starting from hotels to villas and apartments and on to cruise ships, luxury tents, easy cabins and even camper vans. The most affordable option is “as little as $80 per room per night,” a spokesman for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said.

While that’s true, it just isn’t quite clear what that $80 buys you. Several organizations representing fan interests harbor significant doubts about what form of facilities shall be on offer within the cabin parks. It just isn’t yet clear, one representative said, if those staying within the parks will give you the chance to observe games on television, or quite how they might access food and water. (The Supreme Committee insists that there shall be food trucks at each of the sites.)

Neither is it entirely obvious quite what quantity of the available accommodation could possibly be counted as “suitable for the budget-conscious traveler,” as the web site of the Qatar Accommodation Agency, the central portal for booking rooms in Qatar in the course of the tournament, puts it. (The Supreme Committee didn’t disclose, when asked, what percentage of the available rooms in Qatar for the tournament could be considered relatively low-cost.)

There are, currently, apartments available for $102 per person, per night, for certain dates, though they arrive with a warning that availability is running low. Miss out on them and the value creeps up quickly. Other options start at $300 an evening. A luxury tent goes for greater than $400. A berth on a cruise ship starts at around $500. Hotels can stretch into the 1000’s of dollars for a single night.

It just isn’t unusual, after all, for prices to soar during a serious event. Just as they may on the Champions League final, say, or on the Super Bowl, fans expect to be gouged to some extent once they select — and it will be significant to keep in mind that it’s a selection — to attend. The worth of flights goes up almost instantaneously. A premium is added to hotel rooms. Private renters spot a chance. There’s nothing quite like sports for a grand celebration of capitalism at its most rapacious.

But while that problem is definitely not unique to Qatar, it’s inarguably more pronounced. South Africa and Brazil and Russia could draw on an existing network of low-cost hostels and midrange hotels, in addition to private homes available on Airbnb.

Their prices spiked, too, after all, and the photos — from bitter personal experience — didn’t all the time tally with the fact, however it was possible to attend all of those tournaments on a relative budget. The more adventurous could hire a van, or pitch a tent, or squeeze right into a hotel room with way more friends than is advisable.

None of those options can be found in Qatar. The prevailing hotel infrastructure is nearly exclusively luxury. Most of the hotels which have been built for the tournament, bafflingly, are the identical. The few hostels appear to be booked up. Belatedly, the authorities have permitted Qatari residents to rent out their homes privately, but doing so on the last minute doesn’t exactly scream “low price.”

That is the World Cup as Qatar envisages it, and seemingly as FIFA does, too: a premium product, a life-style experience that will be acquired at a certain price point, a playground for the company class, the itinerant wealthy, the luxurious traveler. It’s an event designed by consultants, for consultants, the form of place by which a huge, fire-breathing spider is hired to disguise in spectacle the absence of sensation.

And this World Cup will, sadly, be poorer for it. A carnival atmosphere just isn’t something that will be commanded into existence. It just isn’t possible to take the entire stages and sets and logistics of Glastonbury and easily recreate them elsewhere, just because it just isn’t possible to take the organic, authentic melting of 1000’s of fans from world wide and replace it with a series of “cultural events” and “sponsor activations.”

What makes the World Cup, what all the time makes the World Cup, are the people. Not those on the sphere, not even those within the stands, however the ones who come simply to be there, simply to sample it, so as to add color and sound and joy.

It is tough not to fret that lots of those fans can have been priced out of Qatar, or excluded by virtue of not being allowed into the country and not using a ticket for a game, and that with them the sensation will change, turning the tournament into an ersatz version of itself, a tribute to all of the things money can purchase — as much as an including a flame-throwing spider — and the entire things that it cannot.

Speaking of all of the things that cash can purchase, Thomas Stratford has been wondering about Graham Potter. “If the major reason for introducing the transfer window in European soccer was to supply greater stability for clubs, what’s the rationale for excluding managers from an analogous system?” Thomas asks.

There’s, as everyone knows, just one thing worse than a bandwagon-jumper, and that may be a bandwagon-jumper who then claims not only to have built the bandwagon, but invented the concept of motion. So I’d hope that you just would imagine me once I say that that is something I even have advocated for some time: There absolutely ought to be just one window within the season by which you may change managers.

And, seeing as we’re on a roll, Shawn Donnelly is here with one other tremendous suggestion: “With so many Premier League teams paying huge money for Brazilian players, why don’t Premier League teams simply buy a Brazilian team and use it as a farm team for his or her club?”

They’re starting, Shawn. Manchester City is about so as to add a Brazilian club to its ever-expanding network of clubs, and I think a few the investors at Crystal Palace wish to do the identical. It makes perfect sense not just for Brazilian players, but as a option to get a head start across all of South America.

And a final query from Erin Koch. “The commissioner of the N.W.S.L. was interviewed at halftime of the attendance-record breaking San Diego Wave v. Angel City match, and she or he very strongly emphasized her league’s independence as a differentiator and advantage in comparison with the W.S.L. in England. Is independence realistically prone to be a bonus? Wouldn’t it’s higher to have the financial backing of a few of the world’s biggest clubs?”

It is a key query, and one which I’ll devote a full column to in the end, but my instinct is: no. Having a serious (men’s) team bankrolling an operation offers an obvious short-term advantage, clearly. But my worry for the ladies’s game in Europe has long been that so long as it’s attached to the lads’s game, it can all the time be second priority. The N.W.S.L.’s model is healthier long-term, I feel, not less than in principle.

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