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Qatar World Cup is indefensible but it will be a success

The most divisive World Cup in history is finally here. When Qatar and Ecuador kick it off today a dark miracle will have come to pass. A tiny, rich dot on the desert map will have pulled off the most controversial tournament in sporting history.

The World Cup should never have come here but it is here and the Qataris can sit back and bask in the fact that for the next four weeks their country will be the centre of the world’s attention. That aspect, much more than the football, was the plan all along.

The problem, of course, with courting attention is that curious onlookers will be drawn to things you might not want them to see. So it has been with Qatar and its treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ rights.

The most telling words amongst the waterfall of words which spilled out of Gianni Infantino’s mouth in his lengthy defence of the Qatar World Cup on Saturday surrounded the introduction of a human rights clause into the awarding of all future FIFA tournaments.

So would Qatar be judged fit to host a future World Cup under the tightened regulations? “They would be able to apply,” said Infantino. The build-up to this unique World Cup has been truncated. Shoehorned into the middle of the European domestic season it has almost felt like an after-thought.

On the ground in Doha, it has been a slow burner too. At the start of the week, the stroll around the Corniche with the Arabian Gulf glinting in the hot sun felt like a solitary experience. But on the eve of it starting, things are stirring. The thronging Souq Waqif is permanently clogged with mingling fans from the 32 competing nations.

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When the tournament is off and running at breakneck pace with four matches per day. Heroes and villains will emerge; tears of joy and sadness shed. Some may avoid it on principle and that is their prerogative but the majority will feel its four-yearly magnetic pull.

Whatever the singular nature of its backdrop and scheduling, a World Cup is a World Cup. Infantino claimed yesterday 3m fans will watch live and 5bn around the globe. Qatar 2022 may be indefensible in many respects but it is happening. Off we go.

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