Could Qatar lose its golden prize before 2022?
Whatever the season, the winds around Fifa always swirl hot and febrile. And when the dust settles – in this case, Qatar’s desert sand – there’s apparently a reek of the corrupt.
“Says who?” says the head of Fifa, Sepp Blatter. In the years since Qatar won the right to host the 2022 world cup, Fifa executives have come and gone, with several accused of taking or offering bribes, and some being kicked out of the football family altogether.
This week Fifa begins the process of formally moving the 2022 World Cup to winter. There are pros and there are cons – and few in the world of sport are unaffected.
There’s the domestic football leagues, who fear massive disruption. The American sports broadcasters – who don’t want to schedule “soccer” against the NFL. And the beaten bidding countries – Australia in particular – who spent millions on something they’ve begun to suspect was fixed.
There are many attendant social issues – modern day slavery for one.
Cultural issues too: are the existing football powers just being xenophobic in turning their noses up at a region with supposedly “no footballing heritage”? Or is there indeed something vulgar about Qatar building its nation and image so brazenly with petro-cash?
But it’s if and when the vulgar becomes venal, that it matters. And only one thing could derail the entire project and force Fifa back to their voting booths.
It’s the same reason the Fifa president is for once remarking on the whiff others have been complaining about for years. Sepp Blatter told a German magazine last month that Qatar won the 2022 bid using “political influence”.
Will it mean they are accordingly stripped of the biggest prize in world sport (bar winning the world cup itself)?
Unlikely. But possible.
Fifa’s ethics committee, chaired by American lawyer Michael Garcia, is investigating who may have bribed, leant on, incentivised – call it what you will – to deliver the Middle East its first major global sporting event. And there are suggestions that Garcia has found evidence to support what many have long suspected.
Petrodollars paving the way
Suggestions that Qatar’s petrodollars greased the corridors of power so effectively, played global politics, business and football so adroitly, that the football world realised it had been offered a deal that it simply could not refuse.
Take the reports that 10 days before the 2010 vote, the crown prince of Qatar, Tamin bin Haman al-Thani, met French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Michel Platini, the head of Uefa. A meeting where the potential for multi-million pound Qatari investments in French football and television were discussed. And where the head of European football for some reason allegedly switched his backing from the USA 2022 bid to Qatar. (Yes, those investments did, in the end, materialise).
But will Qatar be shorn of its golden prize? Only if Garcia’s investigation finds the secret meeting at the Elysee Palace was the template for similar successful summits across the football world. Which is why Garcia has been quietly calling all the lead players on all the bids Fifa recently considered, 2018 or 2022, and not just the decision makers at the top of the Fifa tree.
What did they see? Who did they meet? Why do they think the vote went the way it did?
Back then, to those swirling winds that Fifa just can’t seem to shake. Sometimes hot air sneaks its way all the way through the roof.
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