I oscillate between being cynical and being naïve on a regular basis. I always think that not much shocks me until something much too obvious does.
My first reaction to the corruption brouhaha that erupted when the World Cup was offered to Russia in 2018 and Qatar is 2022 was a simple, Simpson-ish “D’oh.” The British press screamed: "Bribery, Sleaze, Scandal, How could they not pick England?" I always assumed that everyone knew no country would ever be awarded a World Cup without pricey gifts exchanging hands under the tables. When billions of dollars were involved, did anyone think that members of a committee given the power to dispense that kind of favor would not want a piece of the action? Basically, other countries were upset at being outbribed, upset that they can’t compete with the new world order of imperialists—similar to Manchester United complaining that they could no longer outspend Chelsea, and the latter can no longer compete with Manchester City.
About eight years ago, I was flying back from a vacation with my family in the Sinai’s Sharm el-Sheikh. A young Englishman sitting across the aisle complained to his seatmate about his mistreatment at the hands of a twelve-year-old Bedouin boy. It seems that this Englishman had been on an eight-hour camel ride in the desert. The boy walked his camel on a leash for those hours—one assumed there was some fear that the beast would run away with its pale-skinned burden—as well as served the food and tea during breaks. The Englishman tipped the boy 50p, half of an English pound, at which point the boy had the temerity to exhibit shocked disgust and refuse the coin. Rude. And here, it got interesting. The young man blamed the Russians and Gulf Arabs who had discovered Sharm el-Sheikh, were now vacationing there, and were obviously overtipping, ruining it for everybody else. Egyptian boys were no longer happy with getting 50p for trudging eight hours in the desert sand and heat.
It’s always those rich Russians and Arabs. Outrage.
Of course, the tournament will probably be problematic if held in Russia, possibly a disaster in Qatar. It was the surprise that baffled me. FIFA’s corruption should be taken for granted, like a politician’s dishonesty, a multinational corporation’s greed, etc. That anyone doubted Sepp Blatter’s sleaziness shocked me.
One of the wittiest members of my fantasy football league, Jacob Goolkasian, mentioned in a group email that he truly enjoyed watching the most recent X-Men movie, but suggested that the plot had one major hole: If the heroes returned all the way back to 1973, why didn’t they do something about Sepp Blatter while they were at it?
But then this week, the news that Franz Beckenbauer has been banned by FIFA for refusing to cooperate with the corruption investigation floored me. Not Beckenbauer, one of my heroes, he couldn’t possibly have been bribed. He was a member of the “committee given the power to dispense that kind of favor” in 2010, but I would expect him not to “want a piece of the action.” I was shocked. Why, why, why? Was nothing sacred anymore? I felt betrayed and hurt.
Three white doves were released before the first game in Brazil. Two crashed into the stands and perished. Hoping to outdo this, in 2022, Qatar will release migrant workers.
Rabih Alameddine is a novelist. His most recent is An Unnecessary Woman.