The Changing Nature of Football

FIFA 2022. Photo open to public domain. 

If one were to ask what is the one thing that you might use as a catalyst to fire up a conversation with a stranger from anywhere in the world, football and the World Cup would undoubtedly be among the top contenders. Football is a sport that has managed to transcend borders, a sport which is beloved in nearly every single country in the world today.  Further, the FIFA World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world, barring perhaps the Summer Olympics. 

However, if history and human nature are indicative of anything at all, it is the fact that even the best things in life all eventually seem to succumb to greed and corruption. While the governing bodies of most sports certainly cannot be considered paragons of virtue, FIFA 2022 seemed to achieve an astonishing new record of controversies related to one single event in a long time. And that is without even getting into the actual football part of it!

It is no surprise that Qatar and FIFA have faced significant backlash in recent days for a myriad of reasons. Football fans around the world were disappointed when a country without much of a football culture or history such as Qatar won the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup. This led to suspicions of corruption among FIFA executives which were affirmed by the arrests of some of its officials on charges of bribery, racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. Qatar’s weather during the summer months also meant that the games had to be scheduled for a much later time so that players could perform their extraordinary feats of athleticism without the threat of heat strokes literally looming over their heads in the form of the desert sun. This also led to the cutting short or interruption of various local leagues especially in Europe, as the World Cup took precedence for the players and fans. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has actually gone on record on two separate occasions to say that Qatar hosting the World Cup is a mistake. 

There have also been allegations of assassinations of journalists who were particularly outspoken in their criticisms of the host country. Fans who showed their support for the LGBTQ community or engaged in protests against the official stands of the Qatari government have been reportedly detained. 

From the alleged involvement of slave labour in the building of the stadiums to be used in the World Cup to formal indictments from the U.S. Department of Justice on allegations of bribery, the 2022 World Cup seems to have seen it all. 

Lusail Stadium in Qatar. Credit

As the popularity of the game of football continues to rise, and its profits skyrocket along with it, it is perhaps no surprise that its premier organising body has a veritable laundry list of allegations and formal prosecutions stacked against it.  

Football holds a special place in the hearts and minds of billions of people around the world and is indeed an inseparable part of human sporting culture. So one could perhaps say that such controversies are the price to pay for a boon like the game of football.  

The 2022 World Cup continues to display the trend of the so-called underdog teams exceeding expectations. As of writing this article, the semi-finals have yet to be played, with Argentina, France, Croatia, and Morocco reaching the semis. For the first time in decades, the teams of smaller and hitherto weaker countries have managed to upset the ambitions of national teams with illustrious FIFA histories. 

Morocco beat the Portugal team in the quarter-finals, earning its place in the history books as the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals. In an interesting twist, Morocco is yet to face France, its former colonizer in the semi-finals, and although the two countries are on friendly terms, one ought to expect a gripping game nonetheless as Morocco seeks to make its mark in football history. 

Further, Croatia beat football powerhouse and one of the tournament favourites Brazil in the quarter-finals and now is to face Argentina in the semi-finals. Despite losing unexpectedly to Saudi Arabia earlier, Argentina continues to hold its ground as a formidable contender for the title. 

A defining feature of the World Cup has been the theme of the ‘underdogs’ taking the fight to the heavyweight favourites. These successes of the underdogs can be attributed to a number of factors- be they economic, social, or in terms of efficient game strategy The impact of the growing popularity of football as a sport, the massive amount of revenue generated, and the novel strategies employed by the teams all seem to have played a part in this unexpected yet favourable outcome. Their use of aggressive tactics proved to be an effective strategy which was strengthened by the stress of a mid-season World Cup, a packed schedule (due to the change in the WC dates), players being fatigued and injured, and the condition of top players in some of the best national teams. The high line of defence employed in games such as Saudi Arabia v Argentina is an example of the kind of tactics that saw a resurgence in this World Cup and served the underdogs so well. 

It is also worth noting that the favourites have to come through every single time while the underdogs need to only prevail once to upset the status quo. 

This evolution of the ‘Beautiful Game’ is sure to usher in an exciting new era of rivalries and thrilling games, a sentiment which cannot be spoiled in the slightest by whatever shenanigans FIFA might pull off. 

Ajinkya Nene

FY (B.Sc Economics)

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