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Spare me Roy Keane’s lectures on Qatar

Here’s a secret: The Government of Qatar is not going to change its views on the rights of women and gay people on foot of what Roy Keane says, or does not say.

Perhaps it’s just me, but much of the preaching around this world cup has been borderline intolerable. And it is not intended, and never has been, for a Qatari audience. Take the shambles the other day with England and the armbands: The English team was all set to wear an armband supporting LGBTQ rights, in defiance of Qatar’s backwards stance on the matter. Cue cheers. Then FIFA announced that those who wore the armband would receive a yellow card from the referee.

Forced to choose between the oppressed LGBT people of Qatar, and maybe missing a game in the tournament, every England player made their choice: Screw you, gays, we’ve a game to play. C’mon.

What’s more, every game now has to be preceded by some sort of political discussion involving the usual heads: Keane. Lineker. Souness. Neville. All of them criticising the Qataris while, at the same time, pocketing handsome cheques to sit there in Qatar. Again: C’mon.

Let’s be very clear: All of these people – players, managers, FIFA, commentators, broadcasters, and viewers at home had a choice to make: Stand up for the oppressed people of Qatar, or play the tournament anyway. Every last one of them chose.

Given that, the decent thing to do would be to shut up.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina. As a sporting story, it’s one of the great ones – a hapless, lowly ranked, nearly part-time team defeating one of the tournament favourites. Everyone cheered – the hypocrites.

Why should we cheer a Saudi team’s success, after all? Their country is one of the world’s greatest human rights blackspots. A country where women are oppressed, and beheaded for “adultery” (even if they have been raped, in some cases). If this is a political tournament, one might have expected commentators and players to issue denunciations. But no, we’re happy to watch the Saudis win, just so long as we aren’t getting criticised for it.

My point here is that the criticisms of Qatar are not really genuine at all: Much of it is criticism-by-rote: Virtue signaling for a lefty audience at home. We’re here, but we really don’t want to be.

That is, not to put too fine a point on it, bollocks. If Ireland was there, beating Argentina in place of the Saudis, would we in Ireland be moaning? For all our objections, the average Ireland fan would have absolutely no difficulty with the team being in Qatar.

And, by the way, here’s another question: What’s the difference between playing the World Cup on the Arabian Peninsula, and having countries from that region own football teams in Europe? Paris St Germain, Newcastle United, Manchester City and others are all owned by countries with a human rights record identical to that of Qatar, or worse than it. Nobody feels the need to give lengthy speeches on human rights before commentating on Newcastle v Stoke.

So, my own view is: Just enjoy the football. Leave the politics to the politicians, who have much more power to influence Qatar than a footballer does. And if we care so much about Qatari human rights, why is the solution, anyway, to boycott their football, but not their oil?

We’ll burn Qatari oil and gas all day and all night, after all, without a thought for the gays and women of that country. So forgive me – and forgive yourself – if you just want to enjoy the sporting spectacle, without all the self-serving whinging about human rights.

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