Life under capitalism is full of compromises. Moral purity is probably a chimera in any society, but more so in one governed by the heedless pursuit of profit, in which the imperative to make a living often overshadows any assessment of “right or wrong”.
Anyone who follows professional sport, at almost any level, is additionally compromised. If that sport is elite, men’s football, the weight of moral qualms becomes almost unbearable – much easier to try to ignore, than try to balance.
I’ve had football in my life for as long as I can remember and as such, I’ve been complicit in the growth of an increasingly amoral, degenerate, exploitative form of global corporate entertainment that, perhaps, has reached its nadir with the World Cup in Qatar.
Among the footballing sins I’m here to confess are watching England. In my teens, I used to go and watch them at the old (proper) Wembley and I’ve had some of my most vivid football memories watching (on television) England play in summer tournaments in which they’ve almost always failed. I do so with virtually no sense of national pride or patriotism. In fact, in some kind of perverse masochism, I probably prefer it when they lose because it punctures the jingoism and false sense of superiority that often accompanies the England team.
A fairly recent exception to this has been the Gareth Southgate era, when someone who appears to have genuine thoughtfulness and a sense of integrity, leads a team of players who often seem to share those qualities. Their principled position on taking the knee to support #BlackLivesMatter, instead of bending the knee to the racist bigots, has made it far easier to support England.
But I won’t be doing it for the next month. I’ve decided to treat Qatar 2022 as I would a royal wedding. I’m not on a crusade and I can understand why other people want to tune-in, but I’m going to try to ignore it.
I accept there are some racism-laced double standards in how Qatar is being portrayed, as well as a rather tokenistic, last-minute outrage about issues that have been known about for years. For me, it’s the cumulative abuses around this World Cup that put me off. First, there’s the obviously corrupt way the tournament was awarded to Qatar, by an organisation (FIFA) that is synonymous with sleaze. Second, the building of the stadia through a hyper-exploitative system of migrant labour, in which many workers have died. Third, playing a game that claims to be “inclusive” in a county where it plainly can’t be, illustrates just how superficial establishment support for LGBT+ rights can be. Finally – and least reasonably – I object to the rhythm of domestic football being interrupted by this corporate jamboree.
Fortunately, the impact of all these things is felt only marginally at Leyton Orient, where the most vulgar display of commercialism is the Papa John’s pizza scooter driving round the pitch at half time.