Something horrible happened to me this weekend. As soon as the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid ended, I looked out the open window and noticed what a beautiful spring day it was. Seventy-five degrees and sunny, and a heaviness to the air that promised more heat and sun in the weeks to follow. A breeze blew in through the window, and as the smell of flowers and fresh cut grass filled my nose, a wonderful, involuntary thought took hold of my mind: Oh hell yeah, it’s almost time for the World Cup. A split-second later, devastation. For my body and my heart had briefly forgotten what my mind already knew: we have been betrayed.
Everyone has been aware of the fact that the 2022 World Cup will be played in the winter for some time now, but that doesn’t make the fact any less enraging whenever it pops into my head. The steady patterns of the sports calendar establish a certain rhythm to life, and at this point I associate summers, on something approaching a cellular level, with international soccer tournaments, chiefly the World Cup. The World Cup is rolling out of bed at 7:00 a.m., feeling the first hint of oppressive heat lingering in the air, turning on the TV to see, to your great delight, that Croatia is playing Nigeria, and then spending the rest of the day watching soccer from the couch; it’s getting day drunk in the backyard of a bar, oohing and aahing along with dozens of other people at every through ball and curling shot; it’s watching a young attacking midfielder you’ve never heard of before tear up the group stage, and then spending the next week trying to figure out if your favorite club team has a shot at buying him; it’s having nothing else to care about but soccer for a whole month.
This year, the World Cup will run from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18. What the hell am I supposed to do with a World Cup in the winter? Pack myself into a crowded bar on a 33-degree day, a room-temperature beer in one hand and my winter jacket bundled up in the other, and pretend like watching Denmark play Tunisia feels the same in this environment? The television networks will certainly try to make a big thing out of the US-England game that is scheduled for Black Friday, but such a game deserves better than to be tangled up in one of the busiest stretches of the American sports and cultural calendar. The World Cup is meant to be enjoyed leisurely, each stage savored by an audience free from any other distractions. It does not belong anywhere near the horrors of airline travel, American consumerism, and Lions football games.
Worse than the prospect of a summer with no World Cup is the reason for its absence. By now you’ve certainly heard about some of the awful things that had to happen in order for Qatar to become the 2022 host country, but it’s worth running through the list again. In brief: the tournament had to be moved to the winter because Qatari summers are too hot for soccer to be survivable; FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar after officials were blatantly bribed; Qatar spent the last decade building up its World Cup infrastructure by violating the human rights of migrant workers, thousands of whom died while working on unsafe construction sites. This World Cup, to a greater degree than any others that have been put on the past, is a monument to the ugliest aspects of international sports.
Of course I will still watch the World Cup, along with everyone else, and I am sure that by the time the first great goal of the tournament is scored, everyone with me in that packed bar will start thinking to themselves, Eh, this isn’t so bad! And sure, maybe it won’t be so bad, but that’s no reason to forgive some of the worst people in the world for diminishing such a beloved tournament. Being able to enjoy a World Cup game while the sun shines in your face is just a small pleasure, no different from eating some wings while watching an NFL game, or drinking the biggest beer imaginable at a baseball game. Like I said, small things, but each of those small pleasures added into a pile is a huge part of what makes following sports so satisfying, sometimes even more so than the games themselves. The loss of such a thing isn’t going to ruin anyone’s summer in any meaningful sense, but that doesn’t mean we should forgive the corrupt ghouls who took it away so cravenly. So when you find yourself alone one day this summer, unsure of what to do with yourself and filled with the sense that something important is missing, take a moment to shake your fist at the sky and curse FIFA. And then do the same when Christian Pulisic inevitably pulls his hamstring during the sixth week of the Premier League season and has to miss the World Cup entirely.