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No sympathy for Messi, and one thing FIFA have got right at the World Cup

Football 365

The Mailbox reacts to Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina, with few tears shed for Lionel Messi. Also: all this added time; Alex Scott; and armbands…

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Saudi shock
Ahh people. F365 readers. The editor.

I’ve had my reservations about this World Cup – even thought about boycotting it at one point and refraining from watching any of the games – but would you look at that. Saudi Arabia giving a little masterclass in taking your chances and then digging the f*ck in (as well as a healthy smattering of time wasting)

I’m ‘working’ from home and just saw one of the great upsets. How. How. How.

This is one of the great upsets. What the F*CK. The tournament is shrouded in controversy and so it should be, but my God, there is nothing like International tournament football. I do feel conflicted about saying this, but…it’s an exquisite feast. I love it.
Jack, 28, London

 

…What a seismic result for Saudi Arabia. And before anyone wrings their hands in disgust while on their moral high-horse about a terrible country winning, don’t forget about Messi. He wept leaving Barcelona, who could no longer afford his wages, and not alone did he join the Qatar-backed payroll of PSG, he also gladly took money to be a tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia. He is morally no different to the maligned LIV golfers, yet doesn’t seem to feature on the “things to be outraged about” list for this World Cup.
Brian, Wexford

 

Only Iran?
I’m sure that you’ll have a flood of emails from the celebration police, declaring that yesterday’s England result doesn’t mean much.

Well let’s remember that this is exactly the type of game England have historically struggled with in major tournaments.

We’ve scraped past teams like Trinidad & Tobago, Slovenia, Paraguay playing awful football. There was the nadir of the goalless draw with Algeria in 2010, or numerous draws with Sweden. And let’s not forget when it was only Iceland at Euro 2016.

The win yesterday was convincing, stress free and fun! Let’s enjoy it – this is what tournaments are all about
Andrew (hope that’s our dodgy VAR moment gone for this WC) BRFC in Nottingham

 

…Smooth and effective performance from England, and clinical enough to look very one sided. Not for the first time Gareth knows what he’s on about – my only major changes to his XI would have been Foden over Saka, but Saka was fantastic, and White over Maguire, which didn’t matter (yet). Pleased for Rashford, Wilson, and Grealish’s incisive cameos, and basically all of the forwards and attacking mids got a confidence boost of either a goal or assist. While we don’t have many CBs in form, it’s great to see all our attackers look at least as sharp as in the Prem – maybe this mid season madness might accidentally work out for us.

After winning we are as usual downplaying the opposition, so worth remembering Iran at 20th in the world are about on par with Senegal (18th) and far above Ecuador (44th) and the Saudis (51st).

With Ecuador or Senegal the likely last-16 opponents, if we can keep beating teams of this calibre anything like as easily we should be getting fairly far into the tournament. And Netherlands and now Argentina have given us some reminders these games are absolutely not easy…
Roger (Gareth knows), Newcastle in London

 

Kissing and a hugging
As my fellow Corkonian has been repeating today, the World Cup should not be in Qatar. This was plainly apparent when the so called competition for hosting began 13 years ago in 2009. It’s too hot, too far away, it’s illegal to be attracted to the wrong type of person, there’s no football pitches big enough, gender equality isn’t great there, it all runs on the fossil fuel industry which is rapidly driving the transition of Earth into another Venus etc and so on.

The World Cup is in Qatar though, there’s a match on right now.

Thankfully all of these problems have been solved by big money. It’s in November and December to keep everyone (who is not a migrant labourer who died from exhaustion in the heat building the air conditioned stadiums) nice and cool. Qatar have their own airline and lots of oil to fly everyone around. It’s just cultural differences, no wait, actually non-hetero people are just aberrations to be cast by the way side along with those rainbow armbands. Women can shut up because football is a real men’s game and real men need some time to relax and watch teams of greased and preened young men in peak physical fitness wearing shorts and running their lithe bodies about sweating while they take turns caressing balls with their feet until the ecstasy of a goal. Oh and the beards, real men love talking about how impressive a football player’s beard is, something women could never understand. And the climate, what climate we’ve got aircon.

There is a long history of homoeroticism in Classical Arabic poetry with one particular category called apologetic beard epigrams. Much like the internet love in over beards such as Alisson’s recently shorn one there are countless thirsty poems about hirsute fellows in the history of the literature of Qatar and the area around it. One such example as written by Ibrahim al Mimar in the 13th or 14th C is as follows: You blame me for desiring one whose beard has sprouted. Tell me your verdict: Can a young donkey be ridden without its rein?
I go crazy for men with full beards; yeah, even those who can grip theirs with their hands!

There are many examples of poems expressing love between gendered and ungendered and bearded and unbearded people in Classical Arabic literature. This is to say that the idea that some westerners are just pushing “woke ideology” on a traditionally conservative nation is bullshit. People are people, we come in all colours, shapes and sizes and there are no known limits to our eternal horniness.

While FIFA and Qatar were defending themselves against accusations of bribery in 2012 the Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami was being sentenced to life in prison for writing a poem about the Tunisian Uprising of 2011 which sparked the Arab Spring. He was released in 2016 being granted a royal pardon following sustained national and international pressure.

Imagine a whole team being yellow carded for wearing an armband, it would look good and maybe give people hope.

There is no perfect protest or revolution but we should show solidarity with others when they express the idea or variations on the idea that all people are people and deserve the same rights and respect, whatever gender or lack of, sexual orientation or lack of, colour or lack of, our diversity is and always has been our greatest asset as a sometimes intelligent and highly adaptable species. This is not some western liberal ideology, it is our shared history, present and future.

We can’t look to FIFA for moral guidance or allow them to act as an arbiter of appropriate behaviour.

If the players and managers had any integrity they would kiss each other instead of doing handshakes for the entirety of the competition.

Kindest regards,
Reub
P.S. Alex Scott is to be praised for wearing a rainbow armband and anyone saying otherwise is straight out of the webcomic “We should improve society somewhat.” “And yet you participate in society. I am very intelligent.”

 

What would you do?
A few months ago I saw a tweet. It was from a young woman who had been harassed on a crowded train by a group of men. It was what you would expect: crude verbal abuse and some unwelcome touching. She was understandably upset, not only because of what happened, but that none of the men in the same carriage stood up to intervene.

The comments under the tweet were all very similar. Man after man replied, saying how spineless these passengers were. If THEY were there they would have stood up against the harassers and come to the rescue of this young woman. Interesting isn’t it? 100% of the men on that train stayed silent. 100% of men who commented said they would have acted differently. We quite often think we would act in a certain way. When we’re faced with reality, we do something different.

And so it is with Harry Kane, Virgil Van Dijk and the 5 other captains who will not wear the One Love armband. I’m not saying what they’re doing is right. I am saying it’s understandable. To you, a yellow card is nothing. A price worth paying for standing up for equality. To them, it could be the difference between winning the World Cup and not. Fulfilling a lifelong dream, or going home early.

As I’ve said, I’m not saying they are right. I am saying that it’s easy for all of us to sit at home and say of course WE would act differently .But when NO footballers wear that armband or wear something that would be considered a protest, we have to ask ourselves a question. Are they all really spineless? Or are they acting in the same way we actually would if we were in their shoes?

I wonder how many people who read the mailbox have ever risked something to protest? Risked your job, or your freedom? I never have. And if you haven’t, if you have never sacrificed something to stand up for others, maybe think twice before chucking out words like ‘spineless’.
Mike, LFC, London

 

Not the players’ fight
Ok, so Harry didn’t wear an illegal armband. Can you blame him for doing what he’s told and to get on with the football rather than jeopardise possibly his last shot at playing in a world cup? (clearly some of you muppets can).

The world cup is undoubtedly the pinnacle of a players career. They had nothing to do with Qatar being chosen, their job is just to help get their team there and to progress as far as possible.

Similarly, Gareth was very diplomatic and sensible in saying his focus is on the football and so should the team and the captain.

There’s been 10 years to mount serious protests and most has been limited to social media, tabloids and some criticism from ex players. It’s not any of the England’s touring party’s job to make up for the rest of humanity only giving lip service to the serious issues. Money talks. Money talks loudly. Watch it, don’t watch it, your choice but f*ck your moral high ground at the 11th hour.
Jon, Cape Town (I’m enjoying the footy so far and glad that F365 are continuing their excellent footy articles on it – thank you F365)

 

Made up threat
Granted I haven’t followed every story as closely as I might have but I’ve heard nothing of players being threatened with a sending home, and to be honest if Qatar ended up throwing most of the pre tournament favourites out of the country over an armband then we’d have the winter World Cup built on blood that we deserve.

So no, most of us haven’t considered the made up scenario in your head Fat Man, just disappointed that nobody thought a yellow card was worth making a global statement.

Didn’t watch any of it but it sounds like Bellingham wants to calm things down a little before he prices himself out of a move to Anfield.
Manjo, LFC (4 free WSL games last weekend and any one of them was almost certainly better than Qatar v Ecuador)

 

Matter of time
Well that was fun wasn’t it – rarely do we ever see 6+ minutes of injury time, and here we go and get 10+ minutes 4 times in a single matchday. I wonder if its some kind of ‘change the narrative’ tactic. If we’re talking about extra time we won’t be talking about __________ (insert controversial WC topic here).

But the reality is, I wouldn’t be surprised if these 10+ minutes are a better reflection of actual time lost during the course of a half than the very predictable 1 minute in the first and 3-5 minutes in a second half. In fact I’ve just read FIFA’s head referee saying something like that.

So why not standardize it? Accept that fouls, substitutions, goals (+celebrations) are part of the game – because well they are. Assign an ‘allowable time’ to each (say 30 seconds for a substitution….90 seconds for a goal to restart, 15 seconds for a free kick, 30 seconds if a team asks for a wall etc…) and providing the ‘event’ happens in that time frame, then no added time. Give a signal/warning after allotted time and if a player delays anymore that 5-10 seconds then they are carded for time wasting.

Once the allotted time is passed (ie wild celebrations of a goal take 2 minutes, Ronaldo poses for 45 seconds over a dead ball… ) – have a clock that starts automatically ticking up (viewable to audience both TV and in Stadium). At end of the half, said clock will also run down and ref alerted to blow up the game (amazing how in the history of football extra time has never run out during a corner kick…also I’d love to see a keeper charging up the field as he or she sees there is only 15 seconds left…)

I’ll even take this further – apply it to VAR reviews. People upstairs have say 1 minute to see something clear and obvious. If the ref. goes to the screen he also has 30 seconds – meaning it should be clear and obvious.

Anyways I’ll wait to hear why this is a terrible idea and further destroys the beautiful game, until then.
Steve (Cheering England (heritage), my native Canada, my adopted Australia – but mostly found myself cheering for my boy Saka so I’m a Gooner 1st)
PS I think I wrote a similar email post Liverpool v Newcastle but don’t think I sent it in

 

…Can I just say, that with all that is wrong with this world cup (and there is a lot) there is one thing great? This time added on. Glorious. Finally, timekeeping is treated seriously. I love it.

Best,
Marek, Warsaw

Alex Scott holds a One Love armband before wearing it on BBC's coverage of the World Cup.

Alex Scott and G Nev
Jon, you’re not a hypocrite. You’re just wrong. There is a notable difference between Alex Scott and Gary Neville in this regard, namely that one is doing the same job she does all year round, and the other has taken a lucrative side gig at the cost of his soul and integrity.

Extend your argument about principles to its conclusion, and you have a situation where any person who is morally opposed to Qatar’s laws, and also works for the BBC/ITV, must therefore stay at home and miss out on the chance to vocalise that opposition to the widest audience. What is more impactful? Scott, Shearer, and Lineker saying, ‘no, I’m staying home’ or turning up and making their feelings incredibly clear to a national/International audience? Which is braver, staying away or going there and still standing by their beliefs? Do you want all WC coverage to come solely from people who will support and celebrate Qatar?

Neville has been very quick to fawn over the Qatari infrastructure and organisation, he has absolutely thrown himself into his role as a mouthpiece. The BBC team have taken the opposite angle. It is not comparable. The idea that protest should be carried out from a distance, that attendance is equal to acceptance, is absolutely nonsensical.

I am proud of the BBC team for being so open with their feelings despite the fact that vocalising those beliefs creates a genuine risk to them. And I hope the inspirational actions of the Iranian supporters and players help motivate them to continue to state their case.
thayden

 

…I don’t think Jon, Notts understood why Ian Hislop was criticising Gary Neville, but I think it’s important to clarify his comparison with Alex Scott.

Gary Neville is accepting money from the Qatari state to take part in their TV coverage (in addition to his work for ITV and possibly other broadcasters). That’s what Ian Hislop was criticising – the hypocrisy of talking like he’s Jeremy Corbyn on social issues but, at the same time, taking the money from the people he criticises.

Alex Scott is there commentating for the BBC in her capacity as a sports broadcaster covering arguably the world’s biggest sporting competition. She is not, to my knowledge, “taking the money”.

Now, some people’s stance will be that the sport doesn’t matter at all, that it’s wrong to engage with this world cup in any capacity and so criticise Alex Scott and anyone else who goes, even if it is just to cover the football for their national broadcasters. I understand that perspective but don’t agree with it.

The stance Alex Scott appears to have taken is to decide to go and fulfil her role for the BBC and, while she’s at it, engage in some activism by making a symbolic gesture that has kept the LGBTQ+ issue around this world cup in the spotlight. Personally, I don’t think that is hypocritical at all, I think that’s her doing her job and, at the same time, making her point about her cause on one of the biggest platforms she possibly can.

That has to be right, surely? If she’d just stayed at home in protest she would’ve been ignored.

I expect alot if the people calling her a hypocrite don’t appreciate the (not that nuanced) difference between what she’s doing in Qatar and what Neville is and that’s part of the issue. I expect alot of people fully understand the difference and just don’t like an LGBT woman voicing her dissent, and so draw this sort of false equivalency to try and shoot down her valid criticisms.

Personally, I think Alex Scott has behaved admirably.
Andy (MUFC)

 

…Jon has an issue with Alex Scott being praised for her armband use in Qatar and comparing it to Gary Neville’s treatment on HIGNFY.

The subtle difference is Neville is being paid as a contractor directly by the Qatari owned BeIN Sports network whereas Scott is employed working as part of the BBC team covering the competition.
There’s an argument that the BBC shouldn’t have paid FIFA (who in my eyes are far worse morally for allowing the tournament to be held in Russia and Qatar) for the broadcasting rights, but can a national broadcaster really turn down to live screen the global competition of the national game?

You have a point that no one getting paid in Qatar has a leg to stand on but ultimately some people’s passions and livelihoods depend on football and the tournament itself is too much of a draw.

You are allowed to protest at something and continue to work. For someone like Scott who has been in relationships with other women and putting on a rainbow band at a country where she can be arrested as such, that to me is brave and should be commended.
Andy Law, Herts

 

…Here I suppose to offer a counterpoint on legitimisation Jon.

I think personally that doing your job and making the point/highlighting the injustice can draw more attention to it. Tommie Smith and John Carlos could have boycotted the 1968 Olympics, but they didn’t, they used the platform they had (literally) and drew hundreds of thousands of eyes in their protest.

What impact you want to attribute to it at the time, it’s now one of the most iconic symbols of resistance.

Alex has a platform as one of the most erudite broadcasters and ex-footballers in British media, a pioneering woman in football broadcasting and one of the few LGBTQ presenters in the sport. She could choose to stay at home and not accept any money to do her job and her passion, or she could come and use the platform she gets to explicitly represent what she believes in and show to pretty much the whole UK football watching nation (and maybe even wider audiences) that this position exists in football and belongs in Qatar.

When this world cup was originally won, I knew people who said keep politics out of football; now they are more aware how impossible that is, how football is used to sportswash and why they should push back (not entirely altruistically of course). Talking about these things openly in the sport has massively changed the way a lot of people look at it, engage in it and are challenged by it.

The question I have I suppose is would you be fully supportive of her here if you knew she was donating her whole fee to charity? Does that change the landscape?

Is her position working for a British broadcaster, representing a British perspective on the tournament different from Neville (who to be clear I have sympathy for too, albeit he should be challenged for the juxtaposing position he has)?

I totally agree deification of her position and claims of bravery is too much (fwiw I’m certain she would also agree with that). She’s not putting her career on the line to represent her views (again, this is a good thing, that she can talk about these things without fear of blacklisting) and her actions are not as antagonistic as the Iranian national team for example.

But they are appropriate, genuine and consistent with how she works and advocates so I don’t really agree she can be called a hypocrite, just another person trying to navigate a pretty complicated world, look after themselves and stand up for what she believes in.

And AD, mate, if you don’t like it, you know where the door is. It’s a football website that can …

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