THE World Cup of contradictions has kicked off in Qatar and, unsurprisingly, it has been plagued by one controversy after another.
It began with former FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitting – albeit 12 years too late – that it was a mistake to award hosting rights to the tiny Gulf nation. Traditionally, the host country becomes football’s melting pot of global cultures for the three-week duration of the tournament. It’s one of the great appeals for fans who travel every four years to support their team.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, not all fans have been welcomed in Qatar. An American journalist wearing a rainbow shirt was accosted as he tried to enter a stadium, and Israeli fans have been advised not to wave their country’s flag and to remove any jewellery featuring a Magen David.
It’s also impossible not to overlook Qatar’s appalling human rights record, which Australia’s national team addressed in a powerful video in the days leading up to the World Cup. Thousands of migrant workers died while building the stadiums and infrastructure required to host the World Cup, while Qatar has been accused of providing a base for Hamas leaders and openly supporting the terrorist organisation.
But it’s been heartening to see some powerful political statements and historic moments made. Iran’s national team refused to sing their country’s anthem before their World Cup opener against England. It was a brave act of defiance against Iran’s government and a show of solidarity with those back home protesting the Islamic Republic regime.
History was also made when the first ever direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Doha took off with a mix of Israeli and Palestinian football fans on board. The flight was operated by Cypriot airline TUS Airways and was completely full.
And while supporters were up in arms at Qatar’s last minute beer ban at stadiums, religious Jewish fans are celebrating having access to kosher bagels. Two rabbis have arranged for the bagels to be baked in a space provided by Qatar Airways and delivered to those who need them.
There are bound to be more controversies as the tournament progresses, but as focus switches to the field, go the Socceroos!