The best show the World Cup has to offer is outside the stadiums

Camel close-up photo by Mads Severinsen on Unsplash

11 December 2022

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I don’t like sports and I don’t care that the Germans were eliminated early on at the World Cup. I’m far more interested in everything happening off the pitch. Growing up on basketball and ice hockey, where they score constantly, soccer by comparison is much ado about nothing. All that running around for a few measly goals — and sometimes not even that. If, after all that effort, nobody has managed to score, the game goes to penalty kicks, known as Elfmeterschiessen in German.

The literal translation of this, by the way, is eleven-meter-kicking, a word so descriptive it sounds too childlike to be real. Perhaps this would be the appropriate term for carrying your toddler out of the supermarket to the car because of a temper tantrum. It is also such a random way to end a hard-fought game that they might as well play rock, paper, scissors to determine the winner.

Besides, I can use my time much more efficiently by skipping the game and watching the evening news, which is full of analyses of players, substitutions, unjustly called fouls, incompetent referees, and choleric coaches. If I miss the game, they’ll show multiple angles of the goals on the news, too. The whole 90 minutes of the game are distilled into 90 seconds. Perfect, since that’s my attention span for soccer or sports in general, for that matter.

If I do watch a game, I can do other things simultaneously without fear of missing anything important, including trips to the bathroom and kitchen or answering WhatsApp messages and e-mails on my phone. If I hear the crowd getting loud, that’s my signal that something is happening.

After trying to comprehend the half-time commentary of TV soccer experts and understanding nothing, I asked my German husband if he understood. “Oh, I wasn’t even listening,” he responded with a wave of his hand. Uh-huh. So he didn’t get it, either.

In the case of the Brazilian team, I was exceptionally interested in what they were doing with their feet on the pitch, namely their victory dances, perfectly choreographed and performed. It boggles the mind to imagine the Germans doing any such dance, beginning with the impossible decision of deciding which dance that would be. The states of this fiercely federal country can’t even agree to introduce computers in schools, so it’s hard to imagine how would they ever concur on a dance suitably representative of the whole country.

Personally, I’m particularly fond of Bavarian Schuhplatteln dancing, which I would be, as an honorary Bavarian Mädel, but this dance has as much chance of becoming the national German team dance as square dancing would in the U.S.

Other countries don’t have this issue. The Qatari organizers invited dancers and musicians from around the world to come and perform off pitch, including Egyptian jazz musicians, and a group of Masai dancers from Kenya in full tribal regalia. I wonder if these African dancers realize that they share a bond with the dancing soccer team from Brazil, as that country’s dances all originate in Africa, and were imported and refined by slaves and their descendants. How appropriate that Arab and Brazilian fans had a dance-off in the streets!

British fans are apparently also so bored with the game that they have to get drunk to enjoy it. In a December 6th article from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a reporter surveyed the Qatari pub scene and encountered some of them engaging in what Germans call Vorglühen, or “pre glowing,” a vivid euphemism for getting absolutely smashed before the game even starts.

Someone had drawn up a handy map of all the places selling alcohol, since the Qataris had announced just before the games began that alcohol sales would be severely restricted. The German reporter was astounded to observe that despite being on his fifth beer, one of the British fans was still surprisingly coherent. I guess he had a lot of practice.

Come to think of it, this is a pattern I observed in conjunction with the Oktoberfest. A former colleague from the UK used to take the entire two weeks off to go there every day, arriving as the tents opened at 11:00 am, then engaging in a strict drinking protocol until they closed at 10:00 pm. Once again, the Germans have the perfect word for this: Kampftrinker, or combat drinker. My old colleague would fit in perfectly in the atmosphere of the World Cup in Qatar.

From the moment Qatar began preparing for the World Cup, there has been extensive documentation of the poor treatment and working conditions of the foreign workers brought in to build the stadiums and infrastructure necessary to host such a huge event. Many workers have died, and the head of the Qatari organizing committee even made light of it. There is a sharp contrast between the serious reporting on this situation and the lightheartedness of the sports sections.

Beyond the legitimate criticism and outlandishness of hosting a world-class event in a tiny country with little soccer history, it is a huge outdoor party. Fans who probably could not have found Qatar on the map just a few weeks ago can now be seen sporting local garb. Qatari merchants are doing the business of a lifetime selling the traditional caftans, called thobes, and head scarves or ghutra, to fans from across the world. The taqiyah, a tight-fitting headdress that fits under the ghutra scarf, even served as the model for the Al Thumama stadium.

These items will probably land in the bottom dresser drawer once their owners get home, but it’s just too much fun to not wear them now. A great opportunity to dress in what feels very foreign and not only not be stared at, but even feel like part of the crowd.

And where else could you go to see a beauty contest for camels but during this World Cup in Qatar. The Qataris take this seriously, even going to such lengths as performing plastic surgery on the animals and using botox I guess to make the hump humpier. Both procedures are strictly forbidden, by the way. To me, the winning camel looked as if it were pouting: its upper lip hung way down over its mouth, sort of the opposite of the British stiff upper lip. But then again, maybe it’s the same as when humans get cosmetic surgery to make themselves feel more attractive by taking concrete action. In this case, the camel owners feel better.

Let’s be honest: parading camels around is more entertaining than watching soccer, even if it is the World Cup.

Brenda Arnold

Title photo by Mads Severinsen on Unsplash

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