Arab disappointment, anger over FIFA corruption scandal
Beirut - Arab football fans blame politics, economic interests and racism for scandals implicating the sport’s international governing body, FIFA, putting into question the fate of World Cup tournaments awarded to Russia and Qatar for 2018 and 2022, respectively.
US prosecutors jolted the sports world by indicting 14 senior administrators and business figures, including FIFA officials, over alleged bribery and corruption in the sport. The scandal turned the spotlight again on the already controversial Qatar bid.
“Corruption in FIFA is nothing new. It has been there for decades. States always paid money to win the right to host the world’s top soccer event,” commented football fan and sports commentator Dany Harb.
So why break the silence now?
While acknowledging that Qatar might have done wrong by seeking to buy votes of FIFA officials with extravagant amounts of money, Harb charged that politics and racism were behind threats to deprive the oil-rich Arab Gulf country from hosting the World Cup in 2022.
“The Europeans are playing all kinds of games to deprive Qatar of the cup because they do not appreciate Arab countries. It is sheer racism,” he said. “It will be a big disappointment for Arab fans if Qatar loses the cup.”
Football officials said Qatar and Russia could lose the rights to host World Cup if evidence of bribery is established. Qatar denies corruption was involved.
Charbel Krayem, also a football fan and follower, underlined that high economic interests will be jeopardised if Qatar’s World Cup is held in winter, outside the usual timing of the tournament in June- July.
“It is not racism. It is much more fundamental,” Krayem said. “There are huge contracts involving millions of dollars signed between the football unions and football clubs of Europe and big sponsors and marketing companies which use stadiums for promotion during the European football season that takes place in winter and spring.”
“In view of the high stakes, clubs are reluctant to have their players go to Qatar for the Mundial, when the season should be at its highest in Europe,” Krayem argued.
He said Qatar faces a high risk of seeing its dream of hosting the cup fade away, noting that the decision to contest the tournament in the desert emirate was already controversial because of its extreme heat, which caused FIFA to move it to winter, forcing domestic leagues to change their schedules.
Qatar, a small state of an estimated population of 2.1 million, about 270,000 of whom are Qataris; the rest are foreigners brought in as labour, beat giant bidders such as the United States and Japan in winning the vote for the 2022 World Cup. This has obviously angered the Americans, as well as Europeans, who cried foul.
“If Qatar loses the event, it won’t mean anything, except that Arabs will go back to reality, to the fact that neither Qatar nor any other Arab country as such has a football history in comparison to Europeans or South Americans, in order to claim the right to host the top tournament,” Krayem said.
“It will be a blow to Qatar’s ego, more than anything else,” he added.
Krayem also suggested that Arab countries that accuse Qatar of financing Islamic radicalism and violence sweeping the region would be “happy to see it lose its cup”.
For sociologist Mona Fayyad, politics and economic interests run the whole world and football is no exception. Being the number one sport globally, football has been attracting huge investments since the turn of the century.
“When there is a lot of money there is eventually corruption. It is normal…,” Fayyad said. “But why FIFA’s corruption was brought to the open at this particular timing? Simply because a conflict of interests occurred.”
“There could be some sort of snobbism and superiority in the West’s attitude, especially towards Russia, which they see as a failing economy and having a controversial president like Vladimir Putin who is making problems in Ukraine,” she said.
Fayyad argued that the Arab world is familiar with corruption, especially in politics.
“The politicised Arab youth who were the driving force behind the so-called ‘Arab spring’ movements and protests against corruption would not be surprised to hear that corruption exists also in sports,” she said. “The problem is for the average Arab citizens who are not politicised, not very educated and who follow up sports. Those feel proud that an Arab country is hosting the World Cup and would be disappointed if Qatar lost it.”
Young Arab fans do dread the possibility that the first World Cup in the Middle East might not see the light.
Ahmed Hussein, a 19-year-old Egyptian college student, said watching football matches is a source of joy for many youth who would be very angry if Qatar is prevented from hosting the World Cup. “The fact that the sport is tarnished by corruption may force these people to forget about football altogether,” he said
For 25-year-old Ulwy Ahmed, an Egyptian communications graduate, the bitterness of Egypt’s aborted bid to host the 2010 World Cup, awarded to South Africa, is still vivid. “Egypt did everything possible to win the bid, but FIFA did not give it the chance,” he said. “Like all international organisations, FIFA is run by [the interests] of the world’s major powers.”
“Qatar deserves to host the World Cup. After all, it is an Arab country, and I will be happy if it hosts the championship. It will feel like it is being played in Egypt.”
In Jordan many football fans said they would like to see the World Cup hosted in the neighbourhood. “The Arab world has a lot of football fans and players, and it deserves to host the 2022 World Cup,” said Amman soccer fan Mohammed Taha, 32.
“Besides, Qatar is close to Jordan geographically, so people who can afford to go watch the games live can fly to Qatar instead of touring half of the world to get to their destination.”