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Expect the unexpected at World Cup Qatar: U of G sport historian

A U of G sports historian believes we could be in for some bad games and high profile injuries due to conditions in Qatar and the unusual timing of the tournament
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Not to bring the doom and gloom ahead of time, but the World Cup in Qatar later this month could bring about unpredictability, high profile injuries and some bad games.

It's just another black mark on a tournament that's faced endless off-field controversy since Qatar was first awarded the tournament 12 years ago.

"Qatar, 90 per cent of its population is from elsewhere, so most of the work done on the hugely expensive infrastructure projects to bring the World Cup to Qatar, which is a small country, three million people, has caused labour rights to be violated," said Alan McDougall, a professor in the department of history at U of G's college of arts and sport historian.

"Now, there's lots of arguments as to how many workers have died in building seven new World Cup stadiums, but there's no doubt that there have been labour rights abuses and human rights violations."

On top of that, McDougall mentioned the Qatari government's attitude toward same sex relationships.

"Male homosexuality's illegal in Qatar," he said. "And even very recently, there have been comments from officials around the tournament, for example, saying that homosexuality is reflection of damaged minds.

"All of this has meant that the tournament's been dubbed by political controversy, really from day one."

In the years since, FIFA has seen a number of resignations, including president Sepp Blatter.

Blatter himself also came forward last week, admitting the choice of Qatar to host was a "bad choice."

The criticism even prompted a letter to be sent to participating countries from current FIFA executives earlier this month, acknowledging the political challenges and difficulties and urging them to "focus on the football."

For players and federations, he said there's a balancing act to play, with more pressure to step forward and say something, adding there's been some push back, noting Denmark's efforts to spread messages about human rights and wanting to wear special training shirts, which was nixed by FIFA.

From Qatar's perspective, McDougall adds there could be a sense the criticism has been excessive.

"It's kind of the west talking down to the first Arab nation to host the World Cup," he said.

"I think that's an interesting side of the discussion that we perhaps don't think about always in the west because it can be seen to be a bit of a double standard, I think in some parts of the western world."

"Usually when the football starts, all the politics stops," McDougall later said. "And it'll be interesting to see whether that happens this year."

What happens when the tournament kicks off is going to be quite unpredictable, he said, partly because of scheduling.

Usually a tournament played in the late spring and early summer, Qatar will welcome the world Nov. 20 to Dec. 18.

"I think we're going to see quite a lot of high profile injuries because the players have been overworked since COVID and the pandemic," he said. "There's been (this) kind of greed around world football. (And it) means an endless treadmill of playing has just made even elite athletes very vulnerable to injury."

Not what you want to see for high profile players, many of whom are in their late 30s, who may be playing in their final World Cup.

McDougall expects some bad games due to the hot weather and difficult conditions in the country, but that "some of the usual suspects" will be standing towards the end.

As for Canada, he added they're in tough in Group F, with world number two-ranked Belgium, Croatia and Morocco.

Canada takes on Belgium Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. EST, then faces Croatia Nov. 27 at 11 a.m. EST.

And then after dealing with those two, Canada's final group stage match is against Morocco Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. EST.

"Personally, I think if they just score a goal and maybe win a couple of points, they would already improve on the '86 team," McDougall said.

"(But) if I was a betting person, I would probably put money on Brazil, but that's not a very original bet, probably wouldn't get very good odds on that."


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Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Originally from Timmins, ON, Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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