KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- As own goals go, FIFA’s desperate plea for its World Cup finalists to focus on football and not off-field issues was up there with the best. Or worst.

All international sports federations fervently defend the nonsense that sport and politics do not mix. Yet world football’s governing body has driven a coach and horses through even that illusion by directly linking the two.

The letter to all 32 national associations sending their stars to Qatar in a fortnight’s time was signed off by president Gianni Infantino and secretary-general Fatma Samoura.

Qatar – football and/or politics

It said: “We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”

Here was an admission that FIFA has been seriously rattled by the headlining negativity surrounding construction fatalities, worker and human rights and, of late, LGBT+ issues.

The FIFA intervention may well not even have pleased the organising Supreme Committee. Leaders such as Hassan Al-Thawadi and Nasser Al-Khater have long since proved their mettle in standing up for a hosting delivered amid FIFA’s own cloud of controversy back in 2010.

Shadow tactics

Qatar’s confidence under fire has seen it turning defence into attack with allegations of critics’ racist attitudes. It has also taken a leaf out of the shadow tactics adopted in the past by many sponsors and commercial pirates in signing up squads of foreign fans in its own promotional cause.

Like it or like it not, the World Cup is going ahead in Qatar

The 2022 tournament has been described as the most controversial in the World Cup’s history. Maybe. Maybe not. Most detractors – and social media- were not around when the world game flew off with reservations in 1978 to an Argentina in the iron-clad grip of Jorge Videla and his murdering junta.

Every observer of World Cups and Olympics down the years knows that all the antagonistic fury towards any host – whether Russia or China or Ruritania – falls away once the sporting action starts. Hence campaigners stepping up their efforts in the last few weeks in the knowledge that these weeks mark their last hurrah.

FIFA may just have provoked the reaction it wanted to avoid.