A controversial World Cup – The New York Times

Today the World Cup starts in Qatar. The games, which typically start in late spring or summer, have been adapted to suit the climate of the desert country – one of many reasons this is an odd World Cup.

The best national football teams compete for the world championship title. Around a billion people will be expecting the final on December 18th. Tariq Panja, a Times sports reporter, is at the tournament (which is still around 35 degrees). I spoke to him about the scandals surrounding the event and what to expect from the Games.

Lauren: I grew up in Arkansas where we saw a different kind of football. Can you give me a sense of how big the World Cup is worldwide?

Tarik: There is nothing bigger, not even the Olympic Games. The World Cup is the most watched event in the world. It takes place every four years and is a highlight in many people’s lives.

These 32 teams capture fans’ imaginations beyond their borders, particularly in Asia, where historically most countries do not qualify for the World Cup. People can accept a team and support them with great passion.

This is the fourth world championship you cover. What’s different about this one?

This is the first time the games will be played in November and December. Due to the desert heat in Qatar, the schedule had to be changed, turning the entire global football calendar upside down. For the first time, European football has been paused halfway through the season. Players now have less time to train with their national teams.

These games were usually held in different cities in huge countries like Russia, Brazil or South Africa. This is the smallest venue where this tournament has ever been held.

In 2009, Qatar submitted the most extravagant bid in history to host the World Cup. Why was it so keen to host?

Qatar is a tiny speck in the Gulf desert that wants the world to know it’s here. It is the first Arab and first Muslim nation to host a sporting event of this magnitude. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates look on with envy, lending clout to Qatar.

In 2009, Qatar spent tens of millions of dollars trying to host the World Cup. They paid famous athletes like Zinedine Zidane, one of the best players in history, to support their bid. Still, Qatar’s offer seemed like a joke. It was as fancy as a concept. They got questions about the heat, how they would accommodate the games in a country smaller than Connecticut and if they would allow alcohol.

When the then FIFA President opened the envelope and the name Qatar came out, everything immediately turned to corruption. The ensuing investigations forced FIFA to change the way it determined a host and revealed how a country could bend the world to its will through cash raising.

They arrived in Qatar last week. What do you see?

Everything here feels shiny and newly built. It’s like a country with that new car smell. Most noticeably, it’s sweltering hot – and that’s close to winter. There is very strong sunlight bouncing off the concrete that has been laid for all new buildings. They have also banned the sale of beer to fans in stadiums.

How did Qatar manage its preparation? Talk us through the controversy surrounding this tournament.

They essentially had to rebuild an entire country in 12 years to host this month-long event. They gathered hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, especially workers from South Asia, to undertake this construction. Thousands of these workers have died in Qatar since 2010, the year the country gained host rights, according to human rights groups. Many more were injured during the construction or renovation of these eight air-conditioned stadiums, which Qatar will have little use for after the World Cup. It was a collision of some of the world’s poorest people with the ambition of some of the world’s richest people.

The country’s human rights record has come under scrutiny beyond the deaths of workers. A key aspect of this is Qatar’s criminalization of homosexuality. The World Cup should be this festival open to everyone. How does that fit with a country that would put you in jail for being gay?

FIFA President Gianni Infantino yesterday blasted the outrage, calling it “hypocrisy” by European countries. He urged fans to criticize him instead of Qatar.

Some European football fans are calling for a boycott of the games. What would you say to someone weighing this decision?

It’s a conversation people are having around the world and it speaks to the troubling nature of this tournament. Everyone has to find that out for themselves. But from the player’s point of view, it’s not their fault. It’s the position FIFA put them in.

Ultimately, however, this tournament could be played on the moon and would attract the same number of eyeballs. Soon most of the world will only be talking about what the matchups look like.

What do you pay attention to in the games?

Everything is politicized. Iran is under intense scrutiny for its national protests; a player from France, Eduardo Camavinga, has received racist messages on social media; some Argentinian fans wrote a nasty racist song about another French player, Kylian Mbappé.

In terms of football, look out for Brazil. They have a very deep squad. Then there is Argentina. This could be the last World Cup for one of the sport’s all-time greats, Lionel Messi. And since 2002, no non-European team has won the tournament. Perhaps now is the time to end this 20-year wait.

The first game of the tournament, Qatar vs. Ecuador, begins at 11:00 am EST. The USA play their first game against Wales tomorrow at 2 p.m. Sign up for our World Cup updates.

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  • Kyrie Irving apologized for posting a link to an anti-Semitic film. He could play again today.

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The Sunday question: Could Trump lose the 2024 Republican primary?

Some recent polls show that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading Trump in a potential duel, and the GOP elite may desert him, writes FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver. But having a lot of challengers in the primary might split the anti-Trump voice and ultimately help him win, notes Alyssa Farah Griffin.

On the cover: How a giant rail system helped Ukraine withstand an invasion.

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ethicist: Should a mother post photos of breastfeeding?

Talk: Brian Eno on the purpose of art.

Read the full issue.

  • Alaska will tabulate ballots by ranking on Wednesday and likely decide its races in the Senate and House of Representatives.

  • Thursday is Thanksgiving. New balloons featuring characters from the Minions film series and the animated film Bluey are on display at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

  • Friday marks Native American Heritage Day as well as Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

What should I cook this week

Emily Weinstein’s advice for the days leading up to Thanksgiving: Keep dinner simple, avoid sweet or soggy dishes, and skip fried chicken (too close to turkey). Instead, try one-pan orzo with spinach and feta, fettuccine alfredo with chili crisp, or a cheese-baked pasta that’s great for a crowd.

Four days left: Buying wine is one of the easiest parts of Thanksgiving preparation. Eric Asimov has advice.

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