Gavan Reilly: Let’s measure lives by World Cups, not vice versa

1990, my first memory (albeit a hazy one). 1994, my first obsession: wallcharts and tri-coloured pasta. 1998, Ronaldo, France and the strange detachment of Ireland not being involved. 2002, the Junior Cert, Saipan, the nearly men. 2006, Zidane, Ronaldo’s wink, the summer I fell for my now-wife. 2010, the vuvuzela soundtrack to my first weeks in my first real journalism job. 2014, Brazil’s devastation, the summer we bought our house. 2018, the summer of the drought.

It's true, that old line, about measuring your life in World Cups – which makes it all the sadder that the 2022 World Cup is a competition we may measure in lives. (As an aside it makes it all the sadder that Russia 2018, with its own problematic host, was the last ‘great’ World Cup: the next edition will have 48 teams, in groups of three, padding the tournament with meaningless ties and dead rubbers.)

How unfortunate, too, that the supposed new broom of FIFA turned out to be such a let-down – and that they’ve throw in the towel on the very mission statement of bringing the showpiece to the Arab world for the first time anyway. The apparent justification – aside from all the bribes, obviously – was that football could be an agent for change. 12 years on, when people try to make that real, FIFA’s message is to try and keep the politics out of the game. If only.

Greater still is the moral conflict that fans will now feel simply by tuning in. Is the crooked winning and troubled hosting of the tournament vindicated simply by good football? Is it okay to care about the fate of imported slave workers and to still enjoy the circus that has brought them there? What tragedy that the escapism of sport now offers relief only from the drama that the event itself has caused.

Read Gavan's full column in this week's Meath Chronicle