New corruption allegations arise over Qatar’s hosting of 2022 World Cup

The Sunday Times published leaked documents stating that Doha had secretly offered FIFA $400 million in a last-minute attempt to secure hosting rights.
Sunday 17/03/2019
Embarrassing revelations. Deputy CEO of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Local Organising Committee Nasser al-Khater speaks during a news conference, January 9. (dpa)
Embarrassing revelations. Deputy CEO of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Local Organising Committee Nasser al-Khater speaks during a news conference, January 9. (dpa)

LONDON - Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is facing additional allegations of corruption that coincided with the possibility of FIFA enlarging the tournament, drawing outcry from human rights groups.

Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter asserted that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was instrumental in helping Qatar win hosting rights to the World Cup.

Blatter said Sarkozy told former UEFA President Michel Platini and his supporters to vote for Qatar’s bid.

“These four votes tipped the balance in favour of Qatar and against the USA,” Blatter told Agence France-Presse “This situation sparked attacks from the losing parties on FIFA and me personally from defeated England on Russia for the 2018 World Cup and from the USA, [which] lost to Qatar.”

The revelation came after a report by London’s Sunday Times, which published leaked documents stating that Doha had secretly offered FIFA $400 million in a last-minute attempt to secure hosting rights.

The documents, the Sunday Times reported, said executives from Qatar’s Al Jazeera network, owned by the then Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, signed a broadcast rights contract making the offer as bidding campaigns to host the World Cup were closing.

The contract included a clause that FIFA would receive an additional $100 million if Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup hosting duties.

The Sunday Times said, since Sheikh Hamad was the driving force behind the bid, the deal represented a conflict of interest for FIFA and a flagrant violation of its rules, which stipulate that bidding countries are barred from offering financial incentives to FIFA in connection with the vote for hosting rights.

FIFA investigators later looked at the bidding rights for the 2022 tournament and suggested the possibility of withdrawing hosting rights from Qatar, given irregularities in the bidding process and concerns over whether the country would be able to host the tournament in the summer.

Ultimately, Qatar was not stripped of hosting duties a few weeks after Qatar’s state broadcaster offered FIFA a second contract, worth almost $500 billion, for broadcast rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

A feasibility study commissioned by FIFA to expand the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams was met by calls from rights groups to consider the potential human cost.

One of the most tragic aspects of Qatar’s preparation for the World Cup has been the treatment of migrant workers. Both Doha and FIFA have been criticised for conditions under which foreign builders have been constructing new stadiums.

“If we were to hold a minute of silence for every estimated death of a migrant worker due to the constructions of the Qatar World Cup, the first 44 matches of the tournament would be played in silence,” Hans-Christian Gabrielsen, head of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions said in 2018.

FIFA’s proposal to expand the tournament to 48 teams from 32 would require neighbouring Gulf countries to share hosting duties. Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

However, due to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severing ties with Doha in June 2017, over what they described as its support of radical Islamic groups and ties to Iran, this makes potential hosting duties possible only in Kuwait and Oman.

The study, which acknowledged the region’s geopolitical climate, said stadiums in the region that meet FIFA’s requirements are in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which leaves Oman out of contention.

UAE officials stated several times that they would be willing to co-host World Cup matches in 2022, provided the dispute with Doha is resolved.

“If, in the future, the crisis will finish, then all other countries would open their arms to welcome any groups from Qatar,” Mohammed al-Rumaithi, head of the UAE’s general authority of sports told the Financial Times.

“This is Qatar’s success. They won the bid and [are] the host and we would only be helping. We are happy for the Qataris.”

Regardless of the geopolitical concerns, the push to expand the tournament gained traction March 15, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino receiving backing for the plan from FIFA’s ruling council after two days of talks in the United States.

FIFA and Qatar have until June to put together a proposal, which would be presented to FIFA’s Council and Congress, detailing where two additional stadiums required for the expansion would  be situated.

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