The great Pelé will be awarded an honorary doctorate at an academic conference on soccer at Hofstra University on Long Island from April 10 through 13. The star of Santos and the Brazilian World Cup champions and the New York Cosmos is associated with a new version of the Cosmos, who play at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. Over 100 speakers will be present.
I should have also written that one of my great regrets as a latecomer to soccer is that I never saw Pelé play. His Cosmos days were my Dalai Lama-JP II days. A fair trade, I guess. My pal Alex Yannis, who covered soccer for so many years, used to play in choose-up games with Pelé after that. Pelé is the nicest man -- yes, being himself, a great brand, but he cannot fake the warmth and love of his sport. I always talk to him about his friend Julio Mazzei, The Professor, who taught me so much. Being around Pelé is a jolt every time.
I will be part of a panel on Saturday afternoon and plan to be around my alma mater on all days, learning more about the sport -- plus shamelessly plugging my book, “Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer,” to be published by Times Books/Holt in mid-May, just before the World Cup in Brazil.
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And then there’s my book:
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.