Qatar: My tuppence worth.

Firstly, the focus of the World’s premier international team tournament should be focused on the football, the FIFA World Cup.

The second key point is that Wales, AKA Cymru, are in town. Their first such visit to the World Cup finals since 1958. Their Swedish encounters ended in the quarterfinals to eventual Champions Brazil. Youngster Pelé scored the winning goal and Wales never returned to the big stage until 2022. I’m no fan of international football and feel conflicted. My first and only games watching international games have been Wales at Wrexham’s historic Racecourse and the Millennium Stadium. I’m claiming Welsh ancestry through my maternal grandfather.

As great Aberystwyth Town and Wales fans I’ve met a long life’s journey enjoy their deserved visit to Qatar, I can’t help but feel the magic of these finals hasn’t arrived and feels a world away. It could even bee argued that Wales is a far more suited host nation than Qatar. It has established football teams, leagues and a population higher than Qatar. Wales didn’t need to naturalise so many players to make a national team.

The list of issues include human rights abuse (modern slavery) accusations, need reporters being robbed on air, bribes and corruption, questionable suitability, accessibility and handling of the LGBT community didn’t help their bid and winning of the right to host. Nobody mentioned the Thai workers getting a pound an hour to make England shirts. Each shirt sells for £115 or so. Where’s the hypocrisy? That’s Nike’s way.

Put that aside and moving from summer to winter, banning beer for fans a few days before the tournament, dodgy underdeveloped fan accommodation, bad food, hack for hire schemes, forced labour including held passports and other problems. Avoiding a clash with the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Ramadan means pre-Christmas news features football controversies on a near hourly basis. 12 corrupt officials, 11 pounds a pint, 10 FIFA statements, 9 imprisoned hackers, 8 bags of cash, 7 passports missing, 6 lies-a-leaping, 5 air conditioners (nationwide), 4 building sites, 3 carbon footprints, 2 pundits flapping, 1 regime in denial, and 0 homsexuals.

When visiting a new country, exercising modesty and following local customs seems second nature to me. Honouring the Qatari way of life is fine. If someone steals, they accept the local punishment. Sharia laws are strong and it’s their gaff, their rules. Will the accused get a fair trial? That’s open to debate. Flagellation for adultery, anyone? Is it barbaric or a just punishment? Who am I to judge?

The sustainability of the World Cup is laughable. Brazil’s last tournament has derelict stadia, as does Russia, and South Africa. The original final venue in Uruguay, at Montevideo may get reused in 2030, and has tenants now in Montevideo City Torque F.C. How many stadiums crinkle and crumble? How many get moved? Plenty of air-conditioning has ensured Qatar will release plenty of emissions. But, at least Stadium 974, made of recycled shipping containers will move to Maldonado, Uruguay by 2030, if their World Cup bid is successful. On a non-judgemental side note the son of Nazi war criminal Albert Speer and his design firm were involved in all the stadium designs for World Cup 2022. The one that quoted his Uncle as being nice. Hitler was his uncle.

The Iranian team refused their national anthem versus England. Their fans held banners stating, ‘Woman. Life. Freedom.’ or simply a flag with ‘WOMEN‘ on it. Nobody noted that Qatar’s progressive regime has many female graduates and high-ranking female jobs. Qatar has non-discriminatory minimum wage systems, which removed the Kafala system in 2021. Change was inevitable. As was fan corruption to counter the protests. Denmark and sponsor Hummels will tone down their red, white and memorial (to dead workers) black shirts when they feature in the finals. Germany have been outspoken. Many European clubs unveiled banners in protest. Paris won’t be showing any football.

Qatar underwent a huge diplomatic relation crisis in 2017. Its neighbours effectively cut it off. It was a hard time but they have engaged regionally since. Sadly not, enough for Jewish visitors who were promised Koshar foods, prayer areas and safety. All were revoked and fans from Israel were told to be a tad silent. If I was Jewish, I wouldn’t want to step into grounds designed at a place that possibly profited from a WWII war criminal.

Make of it what you want, the World Cup has the love in motion, Arrivederci, it’s one on one. Something like that. Human rights, democracy and equality are going to rumble on as a debate until long after the trophy has been lifted. The Wales game versus USA wasn’t bad. I did feel dirty watching it though. More so because George Weah played for City and really annoyed me. His son scored for USA. Good on him. Haaland senior played for City around that time. His son returned to City recently. He’s not at the World Cup, sadly.

The World Cup goes on…

Their gaff, their rules?

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

Before I write any more, firstly, I need to clarify that I hate the idea of animals suffering. Actually, it forms one of the reasons why right now I do not have a pet. If I cannot be certain where I will live within twelve months, how can I look after a cat, dog or hamster? I’ve been lucky enough in my life to be raised around animals. My Dad and Mum gave me Pup, who was with me for about 17 years of my life as man’s best friend, a wonderful dog. There were cats along the way, Basil (think of a detective that was a rodent), Sparky and Tigger (original, right?). I had umpteen hamsters: Bright Eyes, Stripe, Gizmo and Gremlin to name but a few. Astrid, my sister, will tell you of her hamster Doris, and how she selected it on the basis that it bit her bigger brother (me) in the pet store. There were mice, bred and rehoused, with responsible intentions. I had fleeting dreams of being a vet – but for a huge dislike of blood. Then, it was time to study a BTEC National Diploma at North Trafford College and eventually study a BSc Behavioural Biology. Since then, my wildlife and animal passion has evolved into a pastime, set of interests and hobbies. The professional world was oversubscribed, underpaid and hard to escape clicks. It wasn’t for me. Instead I find myself softly influencing future generations and making people think twice.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”- S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire.

Stumbling into education with transferable skills just meant I swapped elephant dung in the morning for a whole raft of new pooh. I’m in China, their gaff their rules. But I can talk freely about some topical issues. What is a wet market? Well, it’s just a marketplace that sells fish, meats, vegetables, and fruits. The produce is not dry (like fabric or electronics). The goods at wet markets are perishable. Not all wet markets slaughter animals or have a fishmongers. Across the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Thailand), China, Japan, Korea and the island countries northwest of Australia, wet markets can be found and are a common feature of daily life. Foods can be fresh, cheaper than supermarkets, and going to these markets themselves can be a huge part of your social life. It is tantamount to culture and traditions for many people. To close many wet markets may be seen as xenophobic and cause more problems. But, will these same wet markets yield the next outbreak?

Wang Mengyun’s video of a bat being eaten in Palau has become infamous. It is disgusting in my opinion. What adds further disgust is that RT and the Daily Mail, amongst many, posted this via news outlets and social media claiming it was from Wuhan. I was even sent it on the Chinese app Wechat. I’m not justifying or defending her, or any other fools eating weird crap. Data and images can easily fit any story, without, erm, actual information. Of course, if China is involved, then there’s always an element of menace and worry from a social point of view. What exactly are they up to over there?

The wet market here hasn’t reopened (and many will never reopen, as many are rumpured as marked for demolition, to be replaced by more sanitized versions) which is great. I’m actually excited for when it does because they have limited the list of edible species right down. You wouldn’t believe the list before. There was no list. It could have been likened to taking a walk in a zoo. Except, that zoo was closer to The Green Mile, and all the inmates were destined for the grimmest of chops. Owls, giant salamanders and frogs may not appear on the menu in Beijing, but across this large nation of China, there are huge differences in diets. Here in Guangdong, it is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs, excluding chairs and desks.

Afterall the list isn’t far off what is approved as meat in the U.K. The most exotic things are to be found all over Britain such as ostrich, deer, reindeer, alpaca etc. Sadly, the list still includes fur species: mink, foxes and raccoons. BUT activism and conservation are growing here. Thoughts are changing. Many influential and middle-class people really believe that bigger changes are coming. Conservation and animal welfare are some of the few things people can protest here. The WHO advised China to “sell safe food with better hygiene”. That seems to be triggering a huge revolution in hygiene. There’s revulsion at the rich who can afford palm civet soup, braised bear paws and deep-fried cobra. These rarities are not farmed or caught for everyone. There’s status and face to show off, and keeping up with the Joneses is on the menu. Rebecca Wong explains in her book about the illegal wildlife trade that things are far from simple.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation is pushing for an end to meats from wild sources. Many cities such as Shenzhen and several provinces are banning the sale of wild-sourced meats – yet China only has a temporary ban in place (and that excludes use for Traditional Chinese Medicines – T.C.M.). Is the ban effective? Well, The Daily Mail, managed to get images and a journalist into Guilin, Guangxi province and show dogs alongside cats, with T.C.M. posters showing bats. The W.H.O., the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, have called on China to do more.

China’s Wildlife Protection Law to permanently make catching and eating wildlife as a food into a criminal law will follow. The decision’s first real steps had been made on February 24th 2020. It is expected the list of 54 wild species bred on farms will be further reduced. Do people really need to eat hamsters and bird of prey? Do these horrific farms need abolishing? Does the farm license from The State Forestry and Grassland Administration conflict with their interest in wildlife protection? Places like Guangzhou and this province of Guangdong will need to seriously rearrange their eating habits. Chinese news sources, backed and owned by the state, have decried the practice of eating wildlife. One such piece, China Daily, went further than most with an English opinion piece by author Wu Yong. He correctly pointed to the Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (home base: Wuhan) and their publications warning of the next big outbreak, following SARS in 2012. There are voices from within China banging a drum to the same beat: stop eating wildlife (50% of people surveyed in 2014 said wild animals should not be eaten). And should the laws come how vague will they be? How will provinces, cities and local areas enforce the laws? Who will steady the balance books of those who need the income?

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

It is easy to say that wild animals carry viruses, and should they not be eaten by people, then there is little to no chance of these zoonotic viruses affecting human lives. If we do, then the viruses are with us. But, how many viruses start on farms from long-term domestic animals? Think Pandemic H1N1/09 virus and its outbreak from Mexico/U.S.A. in 2009 that killed about 151,700-575,400 people globally, according to the CDC. The problem is that for some their eyes are bigger than their bellies. They don’t want you and I, or others telling them what is right or wrong. For some status and entitlement is paramount. Why can a rich U.S. hunter go and shoot a lion in Africa, when a poor villager can’t catch pangolin in Vietnam to support their family? Will bans work? Will the trade go from loosely regulated to completely underground shady dealings? “Psst, wanna but a civet?” What is a civet anyway? I imagine many having seen a pangolin too. Look them both up. They’re wonderful little critters. Just don’t grill them!

“It is clear that not in one thing alone, but in many ways equality and freedom of speech are a good thing.” – Herodotus

China has endured food safety scandals, unusual additives being included in food, a distrust of food regulation, corruption and countless public health appeals and campaigns seeking to improve standards. If you live here long enough, you’ll know having diarrhea tablets to be most useful. Food poisoning happens and at public ad even private restaurants, finding hand soap can be a miracle. Everyone carries hand sanitiser and tissues, but few look forwards to visiting an outside toilet. To get to the modern regulation systems of the U.K. standards, the U.K. under the name of Great Britain and its Empire had many flaws and faults. Many want change but it will take time. Not every country is perfect, some wash their chicken in chlorine, don’t you America? Tradition and odd ingredients need talking about, at least. Without conversation and debate, how can we as people strike a balance between nature and need?

This pandemic is always going to throw up many questions. Should all wet markets adapt and abandon tradition in favour of hygiene and high standards? Yes, for the sake of humanity, surely! Should we be searching for the next big pandemic? Should we be vaccinating our pets and our zoo animals when the cure to COVID-19 arrives? Will the virus replicate and mutate in other domestic animals? Have we ignored the warnings (2017 and so on) for too long? Will wildlife poaching rise in the shadow of little eco-tourism? How many more lies will the internet spread about handwashing?

“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” – Donald Trump, Twitter user.

Keep talking. It’s the only way to progress.

 

The cover image: chicken anus on a stick. From a Taiwanese takeaway store, in China.