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The real game going on in Qatar

Antony Blinken with Mohammed Al-Thani. Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty

There’s a “refrain” that the Qataris are regretting hosting the World Cup, says Josh Glancy in The Sunday Times. The tournament has triggered a “torrent of outrage” over the Gulf state’s record on human rights and LGBT+ issues. But the truth is there are “two World Cups” taking place in Doha: the football, and the “hard power politics”. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was at the opening ceremony. Qatar’s PM watched a match with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. One of the most important political moments was the country’s Emir meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the opening game. It was a diplomatic coup: until last year, Saudi Arabia was leading a blockade of Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet there was MBS at the Al-Bayt stadium, “wearing a Qatar scarf and cheering on the home side”.

Equally significant was the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and several “prominent members of Congress”. The group met Qatari diplomats at Doha’s “ritzy” La Mar restaurant, mingling over “sushi, fine wines and Cuban cigars”. At a press conference with the Gulf state’s foreign minister, Mohammed Al-Thani, Blinken was fulsome in his praise for the country: Qatar has plugged some of the energy gaps left by the war in Ukraine, and played a “central role” in helping the US clear up its bodged withdrawal from Afghanistan. That, for Qatar, is the real goal of this World Cup: to affirm its position “at the heart of international diplomacy”. Mission accomplished.

🥂⚽️ The World Cup is also a must for the 0.1%, says Glancy. I managed to snag an invite to a luxury box for the Saudi vs Argentina game, tickets for which started at $5,000. We were welcomed by “lissome hostesses wielding golden teapots”; the fine-dining buffet included “squid ink spaghetti, lobster claws, wagyu tenderloin, all catered by British super-chef Jason Atherton”. The football certainly wasn’t the main attraction. “The crowd was still waiting for seconds at the seafood bar when Saudi scored their shock equaliser, triggering a Taittinger-spilling stampede back into the ground.”