Another week, another idiotic moment for Fifa. The organisation does soccer a seemingly daily disservice through corruption, stupid decisions and thick remarks from its Berlusconi-esque president Sepp Blatter. This time, it was Blatter's turn again to step up to the spot and score a hugely offensive own goal.
The decision for Qatar to host a World Cup is obviously a ridiculous one. The country's football league is less than 40 years' old and its national team has never qualified for a World Cup. Visiting players will be expected to hoof a ball around pitches in temperatures of 40 degrees plus. Environmentalists will have heart attacks over the concept of air-conditioned stadia. Anyone who fancies a drink will have to do so on the downlow in expensive hotel lobbies. Female fans will have to cover their shoulders and legs. And gay fans, well, forget about it.
Foreigners have been arrested and deported from Qatar on suspicion of homosexuality. In 1996, an American man in Qatar received 90 lashes and was imprisoned and eventually deported for "homosexual activity". You can't help but feel that when a gigantic organisation like Fifa awards the World Cup to a country like this – an absolute monarchy where Shar'ia law provides the basis for much of its legal system, a country that still abides by the draconian kafeel system whereby many foreign workers are practically treated like slaves – it is condoning human rights abuses.
What does Blatter think about this? Well, he thinks it's all a bit of a laugh really. At a press conference in Johannesburg last week, a female reporter asked about the issue of the status of homosexuality in Qatar. Blatter giggled like an imbecilic schoolboy, as did many of his cohorts and other reporters in the room, and 'quipped' that soccer-loving gays should "refrain from sexual activity" at the World Cup in 2022. He then bullshitted about how football crosses divides, so us silly people shouldn't be concerned about the small matters of endemic human rights abuses in little old Qatar.
One wonders how the world would have felt if he hadn't just referred to gays. What if Blatter had said women should dress as men to avoid discrimination? Or blacks should white-up so they don't encounter racism? These are obviously ridiculous ideas, but no more ridiculous than telling a gay person not to be gay. But we've become so accustomed to homophobia in football – Max Clifford advising gay Premier League footballers not to come out, Justin Fashanu killing himself, chants from the terraces – that Blatter's ignorance is merely part of the package of a sport steeped in discrimination.
It was appropriate that Blatter was speaking in South Africa at the time, the setting of this year's World Cup with hardly the cheeriest human rights record. South Africa is the rape capital of the world. A child is raped in South Africa every three minutes – that's 200,000 child and baby rapes a year. One in three women living in Johannesburg has been raped and less than 1% of rape charges end in a prosecution.
If Blatter had wanted to look at an example of homophobia and football intertwined in this year's World Cup host country, he needed only to Google the name Eudy Simelane. In 2008, the former star of the South African women's soccer team and an LGBT activist was gang-raped and stabbed 25 times because of her sexuality. She became the first murder victim to draw global attention to the epidemic of 'corrective rape' against South African lesbians. Maybe Blatter would laugh that off, too.
Blatter is right about one thing: football crosses boundaries. It unites people of many classes, creeds, sexualities and races. But what trickle-down lessons can fans learn when the boss of the game is so outrageously offensive to the true spirit of football? Clearly not a lot. An email came into our newsroom last week from Alan Hunter, the head of the Irish Football Supporters Association, which read: "Blatter is right! Gays must honor [sic] laws of d [sic] land in Qatar and must restrain [sic] from sexual activity if they attend W/C 2022."
With gobshites like Hunter around, it's no wonder Blatter's opinions go unchecked from within the sport. If Fifa is serious about kicking homophobia out of football, then it should start with its boss.
Once again, Cardinal Seán Brady made me want to run to his underground lair and try not to smack him thanks to his ridiculous remarks about Ireland not being "obligated" to pay any heed to the European Court of Human Rights' landmark ruling last week on abortion. Actually, buddy, we are, and no one asked you anyway, so zip it.
There's no stopping the Rubberbandits. After seeing the lads take to the stage in the Button Factory on Thursday (and it wasn't my first time seeing them live, thank you very much; I am a long-time fan, not one of these newbies), it's clear they're the best thing to come out of Limerick since Aphex Twin. Quote of the night was from a Dublin chap who mused to his friend, "I wish I was from Limerick." That's the first time I've ever heard that from a Dub, I can assure you.
What's the best thing about Christmas? Reuniting your family? Presents galore? Catching up with old friends? Giving thanks? Eh, no. For me there's only one thing that makes me feel truly Christmassy: potato croquettes. Don't forget them this year please, Mum.
The most offensive duo of words in the English language is 'sexy Santa'. I mean, what part of Santa is sexy? Do you really want your kids to think the person coming down the chimney is some bird in a fluffy red and white bra? Yet there are sexy Santas aplenty around this festive season, both in advertisements and in costume shops. Stop it now, please, it's just beyond wrong.