Qatar is having a pretty good time watching the world come to its manufactured doorstep and pay tribute to the tiny country.
That’s what you’re doing if you are in Qatar, paying thousands of dollars to watch the World Cup in person, or even if you are watching on Fox Sports, which would lead you to believe that this event is taking place in Disney World.
It’s like the film “The Mouse That Roared,” about a fictional little country in Europe that declared war on the United States to avoid bankruptcy, with one difference. They flexed their muscles because they were broke. Qatar is flexing its muscles because they paid for the right to do so.
You want to come to our country? You better play by our rules. You want to protest and wave your flag of humanity? Do it from a jail cell.
Hey, Budweiser, you paid millions for the rights to sell beer at World Cup games? Too bad. You’ll sell beer where we say we can.
We’re Qatar. We came to play, baby — spent $220 billion for this chance, more than twice the past eight World Cups combined. We spied (hiring a former CIA agent who spied on their rivals), we bribed and we spilled blood — between 400 and 500 migrant workers, according to Hassan Al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, who came up with that number in an interview with British hack Piers Morgan.
That clearly was the warped acceptable number he came up with for public consumption, and reasonable people can conclude the number of deaths building their World Cup empire was closer to the thousands human rights activists claimed in their accounts of the human costs of Qatar’s price for worldwide respect.
The Mouse That Roared has come a long way from the days when they were a laughingstock in front of the world at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Not a lot of people heard about Qatar when the weightlifting competition began at the 2000 Summer Olympics. But they had taken the weightlifting community by storm when in 1999, they were suddenly a powerhouse, winning three gold medals, one silver and three bronze at the 1999 World Championships.
But just before the competition was about to begin, an Olympic press official walked into the press room and said, “The weightlifters from Qatar who were scheduled to compete today have withdrawn from the Games. It seems that they ate outside of the Olympic village last night and are suffering from diarrhea.”
It turned out that the diuretic the Bulgarians took causes diarrhea. It is also taken to mask the presence of steroids in drug tests and to lose weight to compete in a lower class. One of the Qataris — Fadul Yasif — competed all year internationally at 94 kilograms. He was entered in the 85-kilo class here.
The official reason given for the diarrhea was that the weightlifters ate some bad food. But it was all Yousef A Al-mana, president of the Qatar Weightlifting Federation, could do to keep a straight face when questioned by reporters in a hallway outside the press room. “They are in bad condition, from food or something else,” he said. The team doctor was standing next to him, but when reporters asked if they could speak to him, Al-mana said, “No, he might give you the right answer, which could be the wrong answer.”
It was like something out of a Marx brothers movie.
A few hours earlier, the Bulgarian weightlifting team had been kicked out of the Olympics for positive drug tests. Why is this relevant? The Qatar weightlifting team were actually Bulgarians.
Two years earlier, when Qatar decided it wanted to make a name for itself in international sports, they went to the Bulgarians and asked if they had any weightlifters to sell. For $1 million, they bought eight Bulgarian weightlifters who then became Qataris. During the drug-stained Olympics, this was a moment good for a few laughs.
A lot of people were laughing at the obscure little Middle East country then. They are not laughing now. They may be disgusted. But they are not laughing. There is nothing funny about Qatar now.
⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misreported the amount Qatar has spent to host the World Cup.