In the end, none of it mattered. Not the migrant deaths, nor the homophobic laws, nor the repressive monarchy – not even one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the EU parliament, exposed even as the quarter finals were under way. Yesterday’s thrilling World Cup final – surely the best of my lifetime – merely underscored that Qatar’s bet paid off.
If there were doubts about the tiny emirate’s ability to pull off the logistical challenge of hosting one of the world’s biggest sporting events, they were soon erased as the tournament kicked off. And for all the talk of standing up for morality and liberal values, in the end football trumped everything. The teams which said they would wear rainbow armbands reversed course after FIFA threatened them with yellow cards. TV viewing figures show that there was no meaningful boycott despite the hundreds of migrant workers who are believed to have died building the tournament’s infrastructure. Even a last-minute ban on the sale of beer inside the stadiums was quickly forgotten.
The spectacular final was billed as the showdown between Argentina’s Lionel Messi and France’s Kylian Mbappé. And it delivered: Messi scored two of his side’s three goals while Mbappé became only the second player in history to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, at 80 minutes into the game bringing France back up from 2-0 down within barely 60 seconds. Argentina’s win on penalties allowed Messi the chance to raise the trophy, the moment he had waited his entire lifetime for.
Moments before Messi held the trophy, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, draped him in a bisht, a ceremonial robe worn in the Gulf. That moment signalled who the actual victor of the tournament was. The alleged corruption involved in awarding Qatar the World Cup, the $200bn it cost to host, the workers who died constructing the stadiums, metros and hotels which made it all possible – it all built up to that moment.
Mbappé and Messi may have been adversaries at the Lusail Stadium but the rest of the time they are teammates at Paris Saint-Germain, the club owned by Qatar. If the final had gone the other way, there would still have been the same winner.
The thrilling highs and lows of this tournament – from Saudi Arabia beating Argentina in the group stages to Morocco making it the farthest of any African team in history, but most of all yesterday’s final – surely underline that Qatar got the World Cup it wanted.