The world's largest athletic event is back, with the 2022 FIFA World Cup due to begin on Sunday with host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador. It will control the mood of millions of people across the world for the next month since it is equal parts melodrama, an exhibition of human physical achievement, and horrendous human rights violations.
Whether you like soccer or not, the tournament will be everywhere. Your feeds will soon be flooded with memes and expletives that you may or may not comprehend. So, in Verge fashion, we've compiled a list of things you should know. May the VAR gods always be on your side.
The November World Cup
First and foremost, it is November. This is not usually when the men's World Cup takes place. It usually takes place in the summer, following the completion of the club season. However, this time the event will take place in November and December. That's because it's being hosted in Qatar, where summer temperatures average about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It'll still be hot — this is the desert — but not as deadly.
The Qatar World Cup
Since Qatar was given the right to host the World Cup in 2010, there has been controversy and corruption around the event. There are suspicions that Qatari authorities bribed FIFA officials in order to acquire the event (similar allegations surround the 2018 World Cup in Russia, too). Thousands of migrant laborers were killed while constructing stadiums, roads, and hotels to support the tournament. In Qatar, homosexuality is outlawed, and a World Cup ambassador made overtly homophobic remarks in a recent interview.
According to The New York Times, the country is paying for select supporters to come to the event as long as they don't criticize the tournament and agree to report social media posts from other fans who do. Anyone visiting Qatar will be required to download applications that can be used as spyware.
In an October video, Australian men's national team players publicly condemned human rights concerns and asked for Qatar to legalize homosexuality. According to The Athletic, just two other countries, Belgium and Denmark, officially supported that call. In response to human rights breaches in Qatar, certain cities, including Paris and London, are not organizing public screenings of games.
However, how often you hear about homophobia and labor exploitation depends on where you are during the tournament. Fox, for example, owns the rights to broadcast the games in the United States. According to the coverage's executive producer, the network will not cover off-field matters.
The Air-conditioned Stadiums
Because it is still hot in Qatar in the winter, engineers created technology that allows the stadiums to be air-conditioned. According to FIFA, cool air will be blown out from under seats and along the pitch. "The most essential thing to keep cool is to keep the outside wind out of the stadium." That is why the stadium's size and architecture must be analyzed and adjusted so that warm air does not enter the stadium," said Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani, who lead the team behind the system.
Why is Everyone Talking about VAR?
Ah, VAR. Everyone loves to hate and despises to love. It's fantastic when it helps your team, but it's the worst innovation ever when it penalizes it. VAR, or video assistant refereeing, was implemented for the first time at the 2018 World Cup. It allows central refs to connect with a team of officials who monitor the game from dozens of camera angles and can recommend that the central ref examine a call or play. In theory, it should make the game more fair since a ref may review to see if a penalty kick should have been granted or if a goal was scored by an offside player.
In fact, it only adds to the commotion. Camera angles aren't always ideal. Many game regulations are up to interpretation; what constitutes as an evident goal-scoring opportunity may change for two different referees. Nothing in athletics can ever be totally fair. The game includes rule-breaking and officiating mayhem. It's a mess, and VAR is making it even messier. So there's something more for supporters to shout about before, during, and after the game.
With VAR, we're getting a fresh twist this year. For this tournament, FIFA authorized a new technology that employs artificial intelligence to semi-automate judgements on whether a player is offside. It's meant to help video assistance referees make offside calls more swiftly and correctly. New cameras will follow the extremities of players, and official tournament balls will have a sensor that will transmit data into the system. Everything is incredibly high-tech. Everyone will most likely despise it.
Why are there so many photos of José Mourinho on my social media feed?
In the absence of an air-conditioned stadium in the desert, the ideal way to experience the men's World Cup is to keep your phone in hand throughout a match so you can keep up with the memes as they happen in real-time. Soccer Twitter is an excellent method to keep up with the tournament, as long as Twitter lives till the conclusion.
Of course, there is already a plethora of memes. The "special one," aka famed Portuguese manager José Mourinho, is the focus of numerous memorable ones, whether he's removing headphones in disgust or emphasizing that "I prefer not to speak." Gareth Bale, the Los Angeles FC player who will be a key member of Wales' World Cup side, is well-known for his passion for golf. And no matter what happens, English supporters will declare that "it's coming home." (Even though it did arrive earlier this year.)
But the real joy is being there when these historical events happen and watching them evolve. Each tournament has its own memorable moments. There were the vuvuzelas in South Africa in 2010, Luis Suárez having a bite of Italian in 2018, and Neymar Jr. rolling into your feeds that same year. So the best advice for understanding internet jokes is to be there when they happen and keep one eye on social media.
What games should you not miss?
International soccer is frequently chaotic, with anything happening at any time. Any game may become an end-to-end goalfest, and any touted contest can become a yawn. However, there are a few games in the group stage that should be worth seeing.
On Black Friday, the United States will face England in what is believed to be one of the most watched soccer games in US history. Even if the game is poor, the humor will almost certainly be fantastic, and one of the US men's national team players has a genuine chance to repeat women's national team star Alex Morgan's tea-sipping goal celebration.
Canada's men's national team will play in their first World Cup game since 1986. Wales will compete in its first World Cup match since 1958. Those should be worthwhile just for the passion of the moment.
The most important heavyweight clash of the group stage, though, is Germany vs. Spain on November 27th. Both have a lot to show following underwhelming performances in the previous men's World Cup.
How to Watch Effectively
Now comes the most crucial part: actually watching. And, like with practically all live sports, where you watch is determined by your location. The games will be aired on Fox Sports in the United States, and the entire schedule can be seen here. They'll be shown on TSN and CTV in Canada. Unfortunately, there is no simple streaming alternative, so check your local listings before turning in.
There are two critical points to remember. First, because the event is being held in Qatar, the games may not be broadcast at the optimal time depending on where you are in the world. Some of the games are available as early as 5 a.m. for people on Eastern time. The other issue is that you can't watch everything. There are so many games that keeping up with them all is really a full-time job with overtime. So start by keeping an eye on the teams or players you're most interested in, and then when the field shrinks, you may start monitoring everything, everywhere, all at once.
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