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World Cup 2022 diary: every good feeling in Qatar is lined with guilt | World Cup 2022


Sunday

My colleague Sid Lowe and I decide to take a leisurely stroll to the nearby Al Bidda Park. Good news: it’s only 15 minutes away. Bad news: you have to dodge a six-lane dual carriageway to get there. The park is practically deserted and the view of the glittering ocean only marginally tarnished by the enormous sewage pipe flowing into it. A timely and poignant reminder that in Qatar all beauty is fatally tinged by ugliness. Later, Spain draw 1-1 with Germany.

Monday

Portugal v Uruguay feels like a game that demands a stiff drink. So I seek out a sports bar in West Bay, order a pint of Stella Artois (other £12 flavours of water are available) and chew on a chicken burger so gristly I have to check it for feathers. I ponder upon the choices that have led us to this point, the various production lines of suffering and indignity that have brought this chicken and I face to face, one of us smothered in imitation mayonnaise, the other smothered in shame. Portugal win 2-0.

Portugal fans cheer on their side in Qatar.
Portugal fans cheer on their side in Qatar. Photograph: Marcio Machado/SPP/Shutterstock

Tuesday

The French broadcaster Julien Laurens has organised a friendly six-a-side kickabout between ESPN and a team of English journalists. At least, that was our broad understanding. The first sign that the opposition may be taking this a little too seriously comes when they arrive with a) a camera crew and b) the ex-Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha. As the poor perspiring English toil in the brutal heat, every ESPN goal is greeted with wild celebrations, aggressive slaps and even the occasional taunt (not from Onuoha of course, who appears mildly bewildered by the whole experience). From the other side of the chain-link fence a group of migrant workers gaze upon us with a mixture of envy, pity and curiosity. England beat Wales 3-0.

Wednesday

Sid is going to try to use the washing machine for the first time. Don’t do it, I warn him. You know what happened in Barney Ronay’s and Jonathan Wilson’s flat. The thing whirred for five hours, flooded the kitchen and their clothes came out dry. Jacob Steinberg couldn’t even get his to turn on. But I’m out of pants, he pleads. And so he loads the drum. The next two hours drip with tension. Eventually the machine plays a jolly jingle, Sid opens the door and triumphantly announces that his clothes are clean. It’s the purest joy we’ve experienced all tournament. Do we shed a tear? That, I’m afraid, will have to stay between us. Argentina beat Poland 2-0.

Thursday

The fridge is virtually empty apart from a block of halloumi, so I chop it into bits and eat it for breakfast while watching the Pakistan v England Test match. This is nice, I think to myself, and immediately chastise myself. In a way, we’re cursed. Every good feeling is lined with guilt. Every moment of enjoyment in a stadium is freighted with the knowledge of its cost. Every misfortune is framed by the fact that actually, we’re the lucky ones. There is no real happiness to be found here, and this is exactly how it was intended. Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 but go out on goal difference. My children have left me a voice note asking when I’m coming home.

Friday

I return from the Germany game at 4.30am. Sleep until early afternoon. There’s a problem with the microchip in my accreditation pass so I go to the media centre to get it replaced and miss the last shuttle bus to Al Janoub Stadium. I arrive just in time to watch Uruguay beat Ghana 2-0. Afterwards the Uruguayans are furious at being knocked out and having to go home. From the press box I regard them with a mixture of pity, envy and curiosity. What have we all become?

Luis Suárez cries after Uruguay are knocked out despite beating Ghana.
Luis Suárez cries after Uruguay are knocked out despite beating Ghana. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Saturday

“All OK for the diary?” asks Jon on the Guardian editor’s desk. “All fine,” I reply, “I just don’t have an ending yet.” “There are no endings,” he says. “Nothing ever really ends. Things happen and then we just move on to the next thing.” Maybe he’s right. I press “send” on the diary, put on my accreditation, pick up my bag, and get the metro to Argentina v Australia.



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