Stadium in Al Bayt, Qatar, where the opening ceremony took place
COLUMN – I am happy that football has started. For football of course, because it remains a fun game, and how special is it that all Dutch people, well most of them, support Orange, or are for the team?!
But also that we are now hopefully finished with our national hobby: arrogant rebuke of the world. Haughtily say how it should be done. Trying to belittle the rest of the world, that our way of seeing and living is the only logical one, the best. ‘That you don’t understand?!’ In that respect, not much has changed since the time of explorers, slave traders and missionaries who came to bring the faith. Although they were often only too surprised and impressed by the new environment they found themselves in…
With curled toes, that’s how I often sat in front of the television in recent days. Because our conscience had to be soothed before we could just do what we came for: enjoy football. So we reprimanded the people of Qatar – well, in our minds we mostly said that to each other in the TV studio: about women in the country who had nothing to say. About their narrow-mindedness because they didn’t understand homosexuals very well. About the fact that they bought a World Cup to show the world what Qatar is capable of and how its people are conquering the desert, with futuristic cities and of all things with air-conditioned football stadiums.
About the fact that all that beauty is not built by the sweat of the ‘real’ Qatar, but by hundreds of thousands of guest workers. I just looked it up: the last census in 2017 counted more than 2.6 million people, including more Indians (630,000) and Nepalis (400,000) than Qataris. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were only about ten thousand of these – Qatari – so almost everyone in the country has grandfathers and grandmothers from far and near: apart from people from the countries I mentioned, also many English (until 1971 was the land owned by Britain), Filipinos, Arabs and Iranians. Furthermore, the 1997 census had not produced the names of more than half a million people. Imagine: a quintupling of the population in twenty years!
In the melting pot that we know so little about (I was reminded of Frits Bom, with his map, ‘show us where we are now?’ – how many people would know how to point to Qatar?!) flights of footballers and journalists and some supporters, and they then have to comment on how outdated the modern fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights actually is? With a band around the upper arm? I understand the Emir who complains about the ingratitude of his guests.
If we really believe that we can only play football under conditions that meet our highest moral standards, then we shouldn’t leave the selection of tournaments to a bunch of Fifa executives with their soft spot for big money. And stay in Western Europe.
Nice: we have been playing sports at a high level in recent years – for example in Doha, Qatar, where the World Championships in handball, gymnastics and cycling have already been held in recent years, and last year for the first time a Grand Prix – in Brazil, South Africa and China. Obviously, anything was possible. Sport in countries where poverty is great, where there is a lot of violence, where jungles are cut down, where freedom of opinion and expression is suppressed.
And now that I think about it: is Holland the promised land where there is nothing to criticize?
Take a walk through the streets of Schiedam and try to get a sense of what goes on in the houses: all the problems that humanity is rich with, from violence, ignorance, poverty, disease. Maybe also a look at our guest workers: how they live in conditions where they sometimes share a bed, or spend half their hard-earned money on a room. How they are looked down upon by others and have little contact with the ‘native’ population, no access to the beautiful things in life. How they do the dirty work that ‘we’ don’t want to do ourselves, in greenhouses, cleaning, distribution centers and construction.
I can only say if: a little more modesty is allowed. Stop with that double standard, signal the speck in the other’s eye, but don’t see your own beam. Don’t be such a hypocrite!
Because before you know it, Holland itself will be measured and we will no longer meet the standard.