Would it be different if Scotland had qualified? A little, no doubt. There would have been a bit more reason to be interested and more buzz about the place. The young lads I talk to at the gym in Westminster are keen football fans and their enthusiasm’s infectious. It must also be great for Welsh stalwarts after some six decades.
But still it’s not like before. I was fortunate to get to France in 1998, the last time the Tartan Army had a World Cup outing. Planes, trains and automobiles took us there. Eurostar to Paris, car to Bordeaux and a flight to St Etienne. Not as intrepid as the lad I’d met who cycled there and was still on his bike when I came across him at a game in Lithuania months after the tournament had finished and another had begun.
I recall chatting with fans from many countries and it was part of the pleasure. There’ll be few fans in Qatar, let alone much mingling. This is largely for the corporates and the super-rich. Even if you can access a beer, you’ll probably need a gold card to pay for it.
Qatar’s human rights abuses are despicable, and they’ve kicked foreign workers about as much as the ball will be on the pitch. Its attitudes on many issues are antediluvian and sportswashing won’t cleanse it.
But the real culprits are Fifa. The corruption has long been known. An SFA president was hung out to dry for mentioning it as Scotland bid for the Commonwealth Games. But he was right. There’s a Netflix show on it at the moment and, though I knew much, it was still shocking to see the flagrancy, as well as the same expensive watches sported by delegates.
So, I’ll be taking the great Eric Cantona’s advice and not be watching it. Football’s the loser but hopefully the grassroots game can grow as a reaction. As for the winner of this tournament, it’s surely the rank outsider, Budweiser Zero.
Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian