UPDATE: As of about 11 a.m. ET, ESPN pulled Ball’s story. You can read a saved version here.
2ND UPDATE: An apology from ESPN.
Carefully re-evaluated our recent Qatar story and decided to remove it. It did not meet our journalistic standards. We apologize.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 22, 2013
Phil Ball wants you to know that Qatar 2022 won’t be as big of a disaster as it’s come across. In fact, it’s not a disaster at all. That gleaming country spread across a wafer of sand has taken numerous body blows by these overheated keyboard jockeys in the Big Bad West, but it’s all overblown. Qatar will be ready.
Phil Ball just got back from Qatar. Phil Ball was paid to go to Qatar. Phil Ball briefly lost his marbles.
In a breathless epoch spanning 2,715 words, Ball, a veteran journalist who’s gathered a fine reputation over the years, argues in full throat in favor of FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. But you only got that far if you squirmed past the second graf, which is this admission.
Nevertheless, I’ll have a go, given that I just got back from four days in the capital, Doha — revisiting the country where I lived in 2009 — as one of a handful of journalists invited on an all-expenses paid trip to see the inner workings.
This… won’t end well.
I can’t tell you exactly what Ball’s motivation was here. I’m certainly not suggesting Ball made a specific deal with the Qataris in order to reciprocate positive buzz. On its face, any reasonable person can see through to the base intellectual insult involved with those implications.
Which is why this is so puzzling. Suddenly Ball, who is otherwise a fine journalist with a stiff-backed reputation as a swift mind and an adroit writer, shape-shifts into a Qatari PR flack? All over a slick presentation and some baubles, things not uncommon to any writer used to traveling? It seems beyond the realm of strange.
So while I’m not concluding that there was anything overtly nefarious at play here, I am intimating that Ball (and any other journalist in his position) exercised extremely poor judgment. Not necessarily in that he opted to defend Qatar, but that he did it in the vigorous, ham fisted manner of someone who has had quite enough of these OVERHEATED KEYBOARD FANATICOS. And on on the heels of an all expenses paid trip, no less. Which, kudos for the early admission, I guess.
I want to preface this by saying I generally like Ball. Or have in the past, anyway. I’ve read and enjoyed Morbo, and I tend to enjoy his columns when I get to them. This, though, is something else entirely.
It’s significant that the current witch hunt of the Qatar ’22 project and everything that it involves has come from several Western journalists who have never set foot in the country. It’s not a necessary qualification for comment, but it helps. The investigative team that exposed the systematic abuse of workers’ rights deserves praise, but it’s the subsequent fevered reaction from other less objective keyboards that has turned the issue so sour, obscuring the potential advantages and positives that this event might spawn — still a substantial eight years in the distance.
This is the third paragraph. I very much doubt we’ll escape this journey alive.
Subsequent fevered reaction from the other less objective keyboards. Phil. Phil-har-monic. My man. Is there a reaction too fevered over people dying in not insignificant numbers (which is literally every number above zero) while making buildings? If there is, are you testing those boundaries? Is this happening? And have you read a response from someone peeved at Qatar over this whole “people dying” and “not being allowed to leave the country” thing that made you go, “well, that guy’s a frolicking unicorn and I’m not going to listen to him.” Wait… are you… is this Richie Incognito?
ALMOST GOT ME RICHIE. GOOD ONE NECKFIST.
The traffic is still a disaster — a product of the previously organic urban planning, which the coming World Cup is about to change forever. The Metro, for which the ground has been dug, is scheduled to open around 2019 and will change the traffic snare overnight. The cooled shopping malls still smell of soap and fresh coriander, if you can get that.
OOOH hey are those coriander-scented soccer balls in my grab bag? EXCUSE ME, YOU FORGOT TO PROVIDE ME WITH MY FLOATING AC RUMBA YOU PROMISED ON THE PLANE.
All the great and good were here, and Qatar’s almost limitless budget means it can invite anybody it wants, for the simple “domino” function of attracting the media to an event where they can see the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dennis Rodman and Alan Shearer in the flesh but also listen to some serious stadium-based architectural discourse at the conference proper, where just about all the main companies were present, in a corporate frenzy of talks, bids and networking.
Mother. Of. God. It’s Rodman. WHO LET KIM JONG RODMAN INTO THE SALAD BAR. HIS FACE IS DISGUSTING. This is the worst guest list ever assembled. Qatar invited the 2007 Miami Heat frontcourt, a guy who thinks he’s going to fix North Korea with vodka… and Alan Shearer.
At a time when FIFA is batting away corruption claims from all angles – and with Qatar in the middle – Philly-B-Fresh travels to the eye of the storm for free to hob-knob with… well, people anyway. And Rodman. Who is not a person in the strictest sense.
Why bribe the officials if you know your sales pitch is the best? It makes no sense. The Harvard-educated Qataris at the head of this bid are many things, but they are not stupid.
This is shocking naiveté from an adult human person. I feel like sitting Phil down over coffee and explaining how corruption works. FIFA. We’re talking about FIFA. Sepp Blatter, who literally has to bribe his slacks into being worn every day, even admitted that political interests played a major part in rallying European voters to Qatar’s side.
To blindly say that bribes were the primary contributing factor in Qatar’s winning bid for the World Cup is foolhardy. I don’t know that. I also can’t ignore the smoke issuing from the region, which means I won’t write off the idea that bribes weren’t taken. Which is a bridge Ball has apparently already crossed. Fishy fishy, Richie. I mean Phil. Sorry.
Some people seem to find this problematic — a country-bumpkin state with a medieval absolutist monarchy system, putting on a World Cup? What’s going on?
I have a feeling you’re about to tell us.
Brazil’s growing GDP helped its bid, and a certain footballing tradition (ahem), but the country’s wealth distribution remains appalling and its school marks for the various ethical issues for which the Qataris have been rumbled are equally poor, but just on a greater scale. Because we know about the favelas, we accept them as part of Brazilian culture. Anything pertaining to Islamic culture, on the other hand, seems to be a problem for the anti-Qatar brigade. Russia too is hardly a paragon of political and moral virtue. But it does have lots of natural gas.
What in the total hell.
Brazil isn’t perfect (which, it should be said, the press has hardly ignored), but Ball has decided to pull that country down in order to lift Qatar up. Does that make sense? This is a tactic more commonly employed by, oh I don’t know, a famous oil company trying to paper over a colossal screw-up by running a PR interference campaign to defray some of the blame for an obvious atrocity.
I’d love to meet this mythical WESTERN KEYBOARD WARRIOR beastman Ball is shadowboxing who bristles at Islamic culture, is totally cool with the idea of favelas (SPRING BREAKIN’ FAVELA STYLE BROSEFS) and has decided to overshadow all the great things Qatar has to offer by complaining too vociferously about a horrendous human rights record. If he exists, I have not met him nor read any of his work. Ah yes, but we haven’t been to Qatar. Don’t know how it is. Got it.
Indeed, “legacy” is one of the buzzwords of the Aspire4Sport Conference. The conference is a fest of snazzy suits, big-name marquee media slots and the world’s top stadia architects and engineers. Some of them have already secured their contracts and seemed relaxed on stage, in a slightly condescending sort of way, while others were doing the hard-sell.
“We are a young nation. We’re learning too.” There were no lame excuses proffered. They said they would put it right. The new workers’ charter, rather hastily assembled, is a step in that direction, but the systematic abuse of workers’ rights has not been an active Qatari policy. They’ve just looked the other way, which is just as bad, but they have the power and money to fix it almost overnight. There is no congress, no bureaucracy. At the swish of the emir’s gold pen, new laws come into effect.
They were there anyway, but the foreign middle men just ignored them, largely because they were able to. The Qataris are not malicious people, but the civic maturity of the nation is at best adolescent. One thing is a new futuristic concept, another is to see through the entire process ethically. It’s not as easy as it looks, and Qatar is hardly the only country with these problems. It’s just more under the spotlight.
Up until now, most of Ball’s article has been a silly ode to a silly premise. But this is a sinister idea to swing at your readers.
Does an emir’s pen swish if no amnesty officials are there to hear it? It’s intriguing that Ball goes to the enactment of new laws to make his point (and then paradoxically and correctly admits that they were already there?), as if Qatar didn’t have laws on the books it was already ignoring. This is a quote released by Amnesty International less than a week ago.
“The government states in meetings with us and publicly that it wants to protect workers, (and) there are some laws in place that should protect workers, but the fact is that those laws are not properly enforced by the government,” said a video statement from James Lynch, a researcher with Amnesty International. “The government can talk about protecting workers, but we need to see action, and that means reform and enforcement of laws.”
Ball undoubtedly heard the same spiel. That Qatar knows about the problems and is working diligently to push through new laws to fix them (it clearly knows about the circumnavigation around its laws; whether much will get done is, unlike Ball’s assertion, very much up in the air). The difference is that Ball, unlike Amnesty, has not been camped out on the front lines Qatar’s failing labor laws for over a year, watching the country’s swamped officials sidestep problem after problem before simply telling international human rights advocates whatever it was they wanted to hear. The difference was that Ball watched some fancy videos and saw a lot of glitzy things and then went home and wrote about it.
So it isn’t as much about swinging that outrageously expensive pen through another law (which, to wit, is needed) as it is about being diligent about enforcing the ones they already have. Which strips away the glossy idea that the country is merely too young and dumb to know better. It already wrote laws the international community agreed upon, and then patently ignored them. How much more culpable can you be?
Amnesty International (among many other human rights organizations) is worried. Shouldn’t Ball show some of the same emotion? At least some level of serious reservation? Nobody is this paper thin on such a complex topic. Right?
It’s an ambitious project, and it deserves to be given a chance. If it succeeds, the template might just make a contribution to the future. If it fails, then like Shelley’s Ozymandias, the “colossal wreck” will be eroded down the centuries by the desert sands as a tribute to human folly. The anti-Qatar brigade would like nothing less. I say give them a chance. The only way is up from here.
Look, I’m sure there exists somewhere an “anti-Qatar brigade” who would like nothing more than to see the World Cup go up in brilliant flames. And those people suck, Richie. They’re horrible people. But why address a manic fringe instead of directing your thoughts to the vast majority of people who are monitoring the situation? Like the ones concerned when they hear smart people say the labor situation in Qatar is not good. Or the ones who have hangups with the process surrounding Qatar’s ultimate selection. This is your audience. Not GLORYBOY KEYBOARD JOCKEYS IN THE DECADENT AND DEPRAVED WEST. Is that me, Richie? Say it ain’t so.
This seems to be a theme here, Ball taking out a strangely irrelevant straw man and viciously pummeling him to death while we all look on, bemused and unsure what exactly to think. Like I said before, I’m not accusing Ball, who I’m sure is a good guy, of anything other than poor judgment. But I think it’s important to drag this kind of thing into the light when it surfaces. This isn’t journalism as much as it is a starry-eyed ode to a fun vacation you won on The Price Is Right.