Welcome to the Joy-Free World Cup

That is the golden rule of World Cups. Slowly, over the last few days, color has started to flourish on the streets of Doha, fans draped in Ecuadorean tricolors and brandishing Moroccan flags and wearing thobes in Croatia’s checkerboard pattern while wandering through Souq Waqif, Doha’s purposefully vintage market, and along the waterfront Corniche.

This is what happens, no matter how deep-rooted and sincerely-held the concerns and the doubts and the distaste: the carnival erupts and the sport takes hold, the spotlight that had scoured the shadows of the tournament now focused resolutely and unapologetically on the brilliance of Brazil or the romance of Argentina or the ruthless poise of France.

Qatar 2022, in that sense, is unusually rich. This tournament will provide the swan song for a whole generation of players, not only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but an entire roster of names who have dominated the sport for more than a decade. So open is the field that each and every one of them will harbor some realistic hope that their farewell may be glorious.

That, of course, is what both FIFA and the Qatari authorities are not so much hoping for as relying on. Infantino, at one point in his soliloquy, sounded almost beseeching, urging the news media — presumably — not to criticize the players, not to criticize Qatar, not to spoil the fun for everyone watching at home.

“We all have difficult lives,” Infantino said, though he chose not to discuss whether all of those difficulties are equal or even, really, comparable. All any of us craves, he said, is the chance to forget those worries for a while, to have some time “when we don’t have to think about this,” but can instead “concentrate on something we love, and that thing is football.”

It is hard to think of a more fitting summary for this World Cup, for the World Cup in general, for the way FIFA sees the world. Life is hard, and complicated, and unhappy. But try not to talk about it, or ask any questions about it, or even think about it all. Better, far better, not to resist, but instead to sit back and allow it wash over you and through you, an opiate against the pain.

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