The Qatar World Cup is HistoryRoundup
tags: sports, Qatar, soccer, World Cup
Laurent Dubois is a professor of history and the academic director of the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer.
Picture scenes of a battle or from a play; a massive religious ritual; a game of chess. The penalty kick that decided the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal game was all of these things.
Overhead footage showed the Argentine goalie Emiliano Martínez at far left; seated alone on the turf, he looked as if he was surrounded by a sea of grass. By blocking two earlier penalty kicks from the Dutch team, Martínez orchestrated this opportunity. If his team’s ball went into the opponent’s net, Argentina would win.
It did. The kick was perfect; the ball was untouchable, streaking into its target.
The Dutch players collapsed in shock and sorrow while the Argentines ran past and jeered at them, arms raised, shouting. The star Argentine forward Lionel Messi, however, looked downward as he cheered, almost pensive. As his teammates rushed toward the goal scorer to celebrate, Messi arced in the opposite direction, streaking across the field to join Martínez—the goalie who made the moment possible, now collapsed forward onto the pitch with arms outstretched, his face in the turf. Messi arrived and gathered him up in his arms.
Later, we learned that something else was happening in Lusail stadium at the same time: Grant Wahl, the beloved and brilliant American soccer journalist, had collapsed during extended time and was being treated by medics before being taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead that evening. The outpouring of grief around his loss made clear how precious he was as a voice about and for soccer, as someone who had pushed political boundaries in his coverage and always generously supported others. Looking back, it is now impossible to watch those moving scenes—so full of joy for the Argentines and their supporters, and of pain for the Dutch team and its fans—without also mourning a great loss.
As the World Cup comes to a close, the speed and intensity of what we have just collectively experienced is bewildering. And although these experiences have been shared, they have also been fragmented into millions of feelings and interpretations on a global scale.
A few weeks ago, as the event began, the conversation that surrounded it was dominated by political and ethical questions. Whether the intense controversies over Qatar being awarded the tournament in the first place, the well-documented abuses of laborers who built the most expensive sporting infrastructure in the tournament’s history, or the obsessive suppression of pro-LGBTQ rainbow imagery in any form by stadium security, there was much to be concerned and outraged about. Teams and players debated how to respond to FIFA’s unprecedented threat to sanction any player who wore a rainbow armband on the pitch to protest Qatar’s criminalization of same-sex relationships. Even a Belgian team jersey with the seemingly innocuous word love embroidered on the neck was deemed politically controversial by the sport’s governing body.
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