Sunday night saw the New Jersey Super Bowl luck out with 45-degree temperature, and unluck-out with horrific travel delays through Secaucus Junction. No doubt many of you joined me in celebrating the collective epic/historic fail of the Broncos at the hands of a rampant Seattle juggernaut.
In retrospect, the Big Money/Big Apple Super Bowl was pretty enjoyable, and depending who you talk to, didn’t even impact New York City that much, especially if you lived on the East Side. The decision to host the Super Bowl in an outdoor stadium in winter was controversial, but the combination of 9/11, a new stadium, and both longtime ownership of the Giants by the Mara family and their commitment to the NFL was enough to make it happen. Next up? A Super Bowl at Gillette.
Now, all eyes turn 5000 miles east, to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics kick off this week even though there’s no snow to be found anywhere around town. How Sochi was even awarded the games is a sordid tale of international politics, homophobia, dirty money, Russian oil and gas conglomerates, $50 billion (with a B) and a healthy dose of Vladimir Putin. It’s not every day that a subtropically-climated resort town gets to host a winter sports competition centered on cold things like ice and snow.
The absurdity of corruption, IOC payoffs, organized crime, environmental devastation, terrorist threats, and yet-to-be-finished hotels and venues cannot be overstated, and I get the feeling everyone is watching and waiting with bated breath for these games to begin. I love the Olympics, summer and winter, so I’m pretty excited…but I do have this nagging feeling that something is going to happen over the next two weeks. That’s not to say that it’s going to be a bad thing, but something strange is bound to take place.
But these days in sports, anything goes. After all, FIFA awarded the 2020 World Cup to Qatar and assumed that the competition could still be held in summer. Yes, that’s right, in the middle of summer in the Persian Gulf. Even with the promises of air-conditioned stadiums and state-of-the-art climate control, calmer (and cooler) heads seem to be prevailing, and the competition should be moved to midwinter… European domestic leagues be damned.
And despite the tales of slave labor and corrupt oil money swaying votes, and the connections between the Qatar Foundation and extremist clerics, there is a bright light for Jewish soccer fans when it comes to the Qatar World Cup. Unlike Dubai, which consistently forbids Israeli soccer players from entering the emirate when their European clubs take mid-winter training trips to the Gulf, Qatar has publicly stated that should Israel qualify for the 2020 World Cup, they will be allowed to compete.
Not that it’s very likely. Israel has only qualified once, in 1970, and given FIFA’s stubborn refusal to allow Israel to qualify through the Asia qualifying group, Israel has to qualify through Europe, which means the path to Qatar will go through Paris, Rome, London, Madrid, Amsterdam, or Munich… not Amman, Riyadh, Muscat, Beijing, or Bangkok. Which path might be a little bit harder?
But seriously, seeing the Israeli national team take the field in Qatar would be as awkwardly amazing as seeing a gay athlete win a gold medal in Sochi. Let’s hope that both things come to pass.
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