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"If You Only Talk About The Football, You're Selling Short Your Audience"

"If You Only Talk About The Football, You're Selling Short Your Audience"
By Eoin Harrington Updated
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We are just over two weeks away from one of the most contentious football tournaments of all time kicking off in Qatar on November 20. 12 years of discussion, contention, and controversy will culminate in the Al Bayt Stadium on that Sunday evening in Al Khor, when hosts Qatar kick off the World Cup against Ecuador.

Corruption in the bidding process, tragedy on the building sites related to the World Cup, backward policies towards LGBTQ+ people and women, are just some of the issues we have spent the best part of a decade speaking about but, one way or another, this World Cup is coming, and the debates about Qatar's viability as hosts will only be amplified in the coming weeks.

Speaking at the launch of RTÉ's coverage of the tournament, Richie Sadlier spoke out about the issues in Qatar, saying that pundits must keep the conversation going during the World Cup, while also expressing his sympathy for footballers forced to make difficult decisions.

Richie Sadlier speaks out on conditions ahead of World Cup kick-off

Richie Sadlier spoke at the launch of RTÉ Sport's coverage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this week. RTÉ will broadcast almost 200 hours of football across the month of football in Qatar, with all 64 games shown live.

Their punditry and commentary team will include Richie Sadlier, along with Shay Given, Áine O'Gorman, Liam Brady, Didi Hamann, Damien Duff, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, and Kevin Doyle, among other faces from Irish football.

Shay Given and Richie Sadlier at this week's launch of RTÉ's 2022 FIFA World Cup coverage. Students from Miss Ali’s Stage School in Dundrum (Saoirse O’ Connor - USA flag, Evie Rose - Wales flag) helped to launch the event in House today. (Photo: Naoise Culhane/RTÉ)

Coverage will also include comedy from Darren Conway and Joe McGucken, and will span across TV, radio, and social media.

Richie Sadlier spoke at the event's launch about the well-documented issues surrounding Qatar's historical human rights issues ahead of the World Cup.

Reports in the Guardian suggest that as many as 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, while recent weeks have brought more incidents of LGBTQ+ suppression in the Gulf state.

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Sadlier spoke of his excitement for the footballing side of the tournament, but said that it was tempered by what we know about the conditions of living for those in the country:

Just speaking to the lads there - it's the World Cup. It's the greatest show, and it would be great to just stick to the football. So many people are interested in the football, or watching their first World Cup, and it will be an amazing spectacle.

But, I think, if you only talk about the football on this, you're selling short to your audience. We know the bidding process that led to Qatar being awarded the World Cup, we know that that's in the background, nothing's taking away from that.

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Sadlier zeroed in on the deaths of migrant workers as a particularly upsetting topic of discussion surrounding this most contentious of World Cups.

The former Ireland international spoke about reading a World Cup fixtures chart which included statistics on the number of deaths directly linked to the tournament, and pointed out the insanity of having such discussions around a football tournament.

The deaths - my kid showed me a World Cup chart. I remember being a kid and getting a World Cup chart...on his, there's a statistic of how many migrant workers died. And we're all left with the question, "well how many of them actually died building the stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup?" We don't know for sure, but that's a hanging question in the background.

There's a stench off this World Cup. It's not the first World Cup where there's been non-footballing issues, but you have to dig a little bit deeper to remember that it's the World Cup, and it's the biggest deal, and it will be amazing.

The conversations around the World Cup, which is an event for football...we're sitting here saying "how many deaths directly came as a result of this World Cup being awarded to Qatar? I can't answer that, nor can you, we don't know whether to believe anyone from Qatar. But there's a number. A number of people have died because of this.

Of course FIFA have blood on their hands, but it's happening, and this tournament is going to happen. There will be brilliant football - the legacy of this tournament might be footballing memories for a lot of us, but there's a lot of other stuff.

Sadlier was not the only one on the panel to speak of his discomfort with Qatar as host nation of the World Cup. When asked if she would be comfortable travelling to the World Cup, Irish striker Aine O'Gorman said that she would not have travelled if given the opportunity.

READ HERE: Ranking Every Nation's Home Kit At The 2022 FIFA World Cup

Tony O'Donoghue will be the sole RTÉ representative on-screen from the Gulf for the first ever winter World Cup, and will be reporting from the ground in the days leading up to the tournament on what life is like for people in Qatar.

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It will be a tournament like no other, but 12 years of talking ends in just 17 days. The World Cup is coming to Qatar - and Richie Sadlier vowed to continue speaking out about the issues surrounding the host nation as the competition goes on.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The World Cup was awarded to Qatar in contentious circumstances. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

At this week's launch event, Tony O'Donoghue read a hypothetical lineup of quarter-final matches, which included fixtures such as Netherlands v Argentina, Spain v Brazil, England v France, and Belgium v Portugal, and Sadlier pointed out that it is hard not to get excited for the footballing side of things when you hear such lineups.

Sadlier did perfectly sum up the dilemma facing footballers ahead of the Qatar World Cup - and said that he did not want to slam the players for an issue of FIFA's creation:

We're going 'let's have potshots at footballers, because footballers aren't doing enough for human rights.' What do we want them to do, threaten to boycott? You (Shay Given) played in it, you (Aine O'Gorman) are going to - imagine asking players, for reasons other than football, to say that they won't play the World Cup.

This is a situation of FIFA's creating - footballers are now going to answer those questions. Anyone who comes out against it, journalists are still going to come out and say, 'well, you're still here though' - as if that lessens the impact of what they've just said.

It's all of FIFA's creation, it's a World Cup like we've never seen before, and I think it would be great if we didn't go at the players.

On a footballing level, Sadlier said that he hoped to see the "fairytale ending" of Lionel Messi leading Argentina to the World Cup, in what will surely be his final appearance on the biggest stage:

The image of seeing something like Messi lifting the trophy with Argentina would just be a magical moment that would live with me for the rest of my life.

If we can just keep on that stuff, it could be a great tournament.

These conversations will drag on and on but, if the lingering image of the World Cup in Qatar is a magical moment with one of the greats of the game lifting the trophy, it may just salvage things for football fans.

SEE ALSO: What If? Reimagining Ireland's World Cup History

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