As the new club football season gets under way in earnest across Europe, the public is forgetting the lack of blockbuster sporting competitions earlier this summer. Only now is it beginning to register that the run-in to the Christmas festivities this year will be accompanied by football World Cup action in Qatar.
This is not least because in club competitions such as the English Premier League, the season has effectively been broken in two parts. The regular leagues have started early and will break up in a few months. Several players will leave their club teams to join their respective national squads. Others will be put on extended training camp regimes. Some managers will be packing up to travel to the region as commentators and hangers-on.
The timing of the World Cup games themselves, such as England’s opener against Iran, are now being logged, as groups of friends or families are making arrangements to make social bookings around the clashes.
For the game’s administrators at Fifa and the host Qatar, this is a time of opportunity. All the negative headlines – and there have been oh so many – are put into relief when it comes to the football. The public is concentrating on the games and progression between the group stage and the knockout rounds.
For Qatar, the tournament is no doubt serving a number of purposes.
The Arabian Gulf state is staging one of the most-watched sporting competitions at a time when the leading liquified natural gas exporter is in the spotlight while Europeans are facing a doubling or tripling of their energy bills. The host has a chance to roll out innovative solutions for elite-level sport in elevated temperatures with a purpose-built stadium set, including features such as underseat air-conditioners.
Earlier this month, a German think tank released a report detailing how the staging of the World Cup has been accompanied by a big budget effort to increase Qatari influence through foreign development spending. The Qatar Fund for Development, which is in charge of this spending, has raised its outlays to more than $500 million annually, and has directed large slices of this to target countries, led by Tunisia and Somalia.
Reputational risk and reward underpins everything about the upcoming World Cup, not just for the players and coaches who will be boarding flights to Doha. There is a phalanx of campaigners and researchers who have looked at every aspect of how the stadium construction was carried out and what the burden has been for those who worked on the project.
Perhaps more interesting is the wider tier of work that has gone on around the Qatar project, and just how dedicated the political element of the outlay has been over a long period. The noise generated by the football fans and media coverage of the various teams' progress will surely be the centre of attention when the tournament begins on November 20.
Now is the time for the investigations and the analysis to set out what has been going on – and what they are finding is that the patterns familiar to those who have dug deeply have not changed much if at all. Pressure for moderation has not gained much traction either.
The history of the 2022 World Cup is not yet written. But it is clear that for the hosts, there is much more to it than a simple set of football games.