A World Cup Wonderland

Menaka Garapaty, Editor-in-Chief

For the first time in FIFA history, the World Cup will take place in winter – a key aspect of Qatar’s bid for the 2022 showpiece tournament. Rather than the usual June-July games, the Middle Eastern country will host in November-December when the region’s climate is ideal. The group stage begins November 20, where four countries in each group will compete for the top two spots to advance to the knockout stage. And on November 21, Team USA will take on Wales, captivating American fans over Thanksgiving break.

Compared to previous World Cups, there are high hopes for the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) this year. Over the last decade, football, also known domestically as soccer, has grown immensely in America, and so has the talent. A majority of Team USA plays for European clubs, such Christian Pulisic at Chelsea, Weston McKennie at Juventus, and Gio Reyna at Dortmund (for more information on the USMNT, a cheat sheet to prepare you for the World Cup is on the following page). With Americans playing at the European level, a higher standard is set for the USMNT and fans expect to see this performance at Qatar 2022.

Seniors Joey Wiltanger and Bousso Drame will be a few of many who spend their Thanksgiving break switching channels between football and American football. They both plan to watch the World Cup with their families, as they love the excitement surrounding the event.

“I’m planning on watching at my house, probably a lot of it with my dad. We’re both big football fans and are super excited to watch as much as we can,” Wiltanger said.

As a follower of Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and more, Wiltanger can’t wait to see his favorite players from the European leagues represent Team USA. And he has some high expectations for them.

“I’m excited to see the US finally back in the World Cup […] I think we will make it out of the group [stage] if we’re lucky, but seeing our form makes me nervous,” Wiltanger explained. “I am most excited for Tyler Addams. I love Tyler Addams.”

Drame, on the other hand, is not nearly as focused on the USMNT as Wiltanger is. She is more excited to see the performances from other countries.

“Men’s Team USA has never really been that good, so I don’t expect much from them,” Drame said. “I think Senegal will do much better than years past as long as they keep the discipline they demonstrated during AFCON [Africa Cup of Nations].”

History teacher Adrian Martinez is also ready to watch the best players compete against each other on the biggest stage. His attention is on USA and Mexico, confident the two countries will make it out of the group stage.

“Christian Pulisic will have a big World Cup for the USA, and Mexico will make it out of the group stage and past the round of 16,” Martinez said.

However, the unethical practices surrounding Qatar’s World Cup preparation process upsets many football fans, including Wiltanger.

“I think that the controversy with how Qatar has handled the event could put some damper on the hype of this world cup, and I would be lying if it didn’t affect my hype for this World Cup and the next one,” Wiltanger said.

Qatar built state-of-the-art infrastructure to house thousands of fans, including eight solar-powered and air-conditioned stadiums. The country poured over $200 billion into the event, only to tear the stadiums down after. However, these facilities have come at the expense of human rights. Thousands of exploited migrant workers have died throughout the building process due to poor working conditions and extreme heat. Corruption allegations between the Qatar bid committee and FIFA executives, as well as Qatar’s negative views on LGBTQ rights are additional causes of backlash and boycotts.

“I think that I view FIFA in a much darker light after this, so I do feel conflicted about the World Cup,” Wiltanger said.

Both Drame and Wiltanger can agree that a winter World Cup is a big change for the viewers and competing countries.

“I will have less time to watch [the World Cup],” Wiltanger said. “But I think players will be playing better since it’s a midseason tourney.”

Drame explains that the viewing experience will not be the same for her as prior years, changing family traditions surrounding the sporting event.

“The World Cup has always been in the summer, so it will be interesting watching it while wearing layers of sweatshirts, rather than outside at a family friend’s house,” Drame said.

For students or people employed, this World Cup will be especially hard to view with games interfering with work and school schedules.

“If [the World Cup] was in the summer, we would be on summer break and I could watch as many games as I want. Now I have to work around the school day,” Martinez said.

While Drame, Wiltanger, and Martinez are year-round football fans, less-interested Americans will still tune in to the occasion, especially with the international tournament coming to home turf in 2026. Excitement, specifically in the Kansas City area, has sky-rocketed ever since KC won the bid to become one of 11 host cities for the North American World Cup. On June 16th, local fans gathered at Power & Light to celebrate the announcement that would put the Heart of America on the world stage. Drame is excited for the attention on her home city, as well as the mutual benefits that the 2026 World Cup will provide.

“The Super Bowl is great, but it’s incomparable to the entire world’s eyes being on one field,” Drame explained. “I loved the feeling of being united, and I hope that the World Cup can show Americans the beauty in football.”

Drame and Wiltanger plan to attend the Kansas City games with their respective families, continuing their World Cup viewing traditions.

“I can’t wait for KC to turn into a football capital,” Drame said. “I hope to meet people from around the world and see players that I’ve watched growing up be right in front of me.”