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World Gulp

It’s going to be an easy one for me.

As a less than even casual soccer fan (yes, I said ‘soccer’), not watching the World Cup’s an exercise in unrestraint especially with the arrival of all those Christmas movies on my streaming services. I will, however, need to come up with another excuse to have 8 a.m. weekday drinks. Weekend day drinking validates itself.

But it’s the first appearance in the World Cup for Canada in 36 years! you bellow. Only the second ever! The boys might even score a goal this time out. (Maybe next game, fingers crossed!) History in the making.

Maybe if the tournament was being held at the more traditional time of year, the height of summer in our hemisphere where, here in Toronto, there’s an electric street party atmosphere in many parts of town, and even the most detached of ‘fans’ of the game can get swept up in the proceedings, I could be convinced to care. In dark and dreary November? Forced inside to watch and cheer with respiratory diseases running rampant?

I don’t think so.

Oh, and the whole Qatar thing.

More precisely, the whole FIFA-Qatar thing.

I know, I know.

Just set that aside for the time being, the next month or so. It’s all about the game now, the athletes. The competition. There’ll be time enough for the reckoning when it’s all over, the trophy’s been hoisted, and the world moves on. Next stop: North America! North America! We can all pretend like the 2022 tournament didn’t happen, just a bad dream the world failed to wake up from after Russia 2018.

I won’t bother running down the litany of scandal and abuses that have served as a primary lead up to this World Cup, beginning with the selection of Qatar as the host country in 2010. If you’ve got this far into the post, you probably already know about them. If not, a quick primer in a recent Vanity Fair article.

And yes, I will accept the premise, teased out of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s deranged press conference over the weekend, that we’re all compromised. Especially those of us sitting atop the societal heap, beneficiaries of centuries and centuries of exploitation, expropriation and genocide. Look in the mirror, dummies. What do you see? Right there, peeking over hypocrisy’s shoulder? Yeah. Compromise.

We’re compromised by the food we eat. We’re compromised by the electronics we depend on. We’re compromised by the cars we drive. The clothes we wear. The low-wage workers who check us out of the supermarket, deliver our on-line orders to our heated homes in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. We’re compromised by the products our governments sell to other countries for their use in suppressing their people and waging war on others.

We’re compromised, yes.

So, what’s one more compromise added to the list, eh? When it’s all just fun and games. A bit of entertainment. A brief distraction in a bleak period of history. A way to see another part of the world we might not otherwise get to see.

But shouldn’t sports, as ultimately non-essential as it really is, be an easy place to start? An effortless stand to take? The perfect situation in which to say enough is enough. There’s no jeopardy on our part, nothing life-or-death in stepping up and stepping back. Just the recovery of a few hours in your day to do something else, something productive, meaningful, maybe. Or maybe not. Just some time that we otherwise never seem to have enough of.

An avid sports fan growing up, inversely proportional to how bad an athlete I was, I intensely followed football, hockey, baseball, boxing. Most everything that was popular with the boys at the time. Over the years, though, I eased away from many of them, hockey, football, boxing as I grew to believe there was something wrong with their fundamentals. The brutality. The exploitive nature of the owner-player dynamic, obscured these days, I guess, by the astronomical rise in pay, facilitated by the increasing dependence on TV/streaming and advertising dollars that have drained any element of intimate personality from the games.

I don’t know. Maybe I was never as committed a sports fan as I thought I was. Maybe I just got old and curmudgeonly. In my day! Players didn’t wear helmets and they were proud to lose their teeth! Either way, I spend much less time watching sports than I used to and don’t feel my life to be any worse for it.

De-sportsification can be done, is what I’m saying. All this would be is a temporary pause to express our collective displeasure at almost every aspect that has brought us World Cup 2022. A line drawn in the sand. One we refuse to cross.

Embracing one more corrupted, compromised facet of life certainly doesn’t make us any less compromised unless there’s some law of diminishing returns on being compromised I’m unaware of.

In the last few days, I’ve been hearing a lot of emphasis on various sports broadcasts about this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the players involved. The very moment they’ve trained their entire lives to meet and participate in. That’s especially true in Canada where World Cup appearances have been few and far between. This year’s team, perhaps more than any other Canadian national sports team, represents the diversity that this country now is.

The inference to be taken from this angle of coverage, at least for me, is stop with the criticism. Let the games begin. Don’t rain on the parade with your politics.

What I hear in this is that one life, dedicated to mastering a livelihood that brings pleasure to many of us, is worth nearly 8 lives that died to make the once-in-a-lifetime event possible. That’s the inhuman calculation I think we shouldn’t be just brushing aside with a shrug and blithe acceptance of the compromised choices we all have to make.


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