It may be just coincidental that as parts of the country were battered by Lorenzo yesterday Ireland’s rugby players made unexpectedly heavy weather of beating Russia in the tremendous heat and draining humidity in Kobe’s sweatbox to keep the World Cup dream alive. Weather, or more accurately extreme weather, is now a regular feature of our lives. It is, increasingly, a factor in death too.
According to The Guardian migrant labourers are being worked to death in searing temperatures in Qatar. It has been estimated that hundreds have died from heat stress working on projects related to the Fifa 2022 World Cup. This summer, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers struggled in temperatures of up to 45C for up to 10 hours a day.
Any comparison with well-prepared professional athletes wilting before they complete 80 minutes in Japanese stadiums, where temperatures are far lower, is fatuous. However, the commercialisation and politicisation of sport means the world’s best soccer players can look forward to even more challenging conditions.
If the selection of Qatar as 2022 hosts was surprising, and is still indefensible, it had precedent. The World Athletics Championships are being held in Doha.
When Doha was awarded the championships ahead of Barcelona in Spain or Eugene in Oregon, a former IAAF board member said it was “incomprehensible”.
José María Odriozola, a Spanish IAAF executive with a sharp appreciation of how sport decisions are lubricated, was emphatic. “All Doha have is money,” he said. That Qatar offered around €25m in extra sponsorship and a promise to build 10 tracks around the world minutes before the 2014 vote seems to confirm that judgment.
The people of Qatar, and those who ordinarily consider travelling to such an event, have offered a damming judgment.
They have stayed away and the world’s best athletes compete before crowds more usually seen at a greyhound track. It was all meant to be so very different. Qatar promised “the atmosphere surrounding the world championships will be fantastic” and “no empty seats”.
It must be acknowledged that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt two years ago imposed an air and sea blockade, a hurdle that hardly helped create a positive atmosphere around the games.
That, however, only speaks to political and geographic difficulties. Could it be that athletics, and many other sports too, have squandered so much credibility that their core attraction — fair competition — has achieved unicorn status?
The expulsion of Alberto Salazar, the American coach, from Doha over a four-year doping ban can only encourage that scepticism. As must the fact that Salazar guided Britain’s Mo Farah to six world titles and four Olympic gold medals.
America’s Anti-Doping Agency found he had been “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct”.
It may, in the absence of any viable alternative, be tempting to dismiss this latest exposé with a world-weary sigh but that seems a concession too far to base instincts that have, on so many platforms, devalued one of humanity’s greatest currencies and bridge builders — trustworthy competitive sport.