By Sam Cohen
Qatar is located in a neighborhood not at all hospitable to soccer – the temperature soars into the hundreds in the summer — but the Persian Gulf emirate was awarded the 2022 World Cup by FIFA, the international soccer federation.
The country’s dirty campaign to win the competition was detailed on Wednesday at a Washington, D.C., conference that brought together leading authorities from the world of sport.
“What Qatar did was the most sophisticated and most corrupt attempt to get a major event in the history of sport,” said Jens Weinreich, a German sports journalist who has written for Der Spiegel. Weinreich recounted how in 2010 Qatari officials used espionage and bribery to secure the votes of members of FIFA’s selection committee.
“They knew and they studied the family and understood the culture,” Weinreich said. “Almost all of them are interested in getting a good deal out of it,” he added.
Weinreich, appearing on a panel at the Middle East Forum’s one-day gathering, “Qatar: U.S. Ally or Strategic Threat?,” sketched out a lurid tale involving shady land deals and hardball international politics. His fellow panelists were Nicholas Mayne-Nicholls, a former FIFA official, and Jaimie Fuller, the president of the London-based Foundation for Sports Integrity.
“If you think politics has dirty undertones, you should take a look at the world of sport and football,” said Jaimie Fuller, who moderated the discussion. Among the antics the trio said Qatar engaged in were an underhanded agreement to purchase Airbus planes to earn the backing of European FIFA officials, collusion between the emirate and then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter to sideline a rival candidate to lead the soccer federation, and a land sale in which Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund overpaid a FIFA selection committee member for a property in Cyprus.
Fuller outlined other problematic aspects of Qatar’s bid for the World Cup, including the abusive labor practices it has adopted in bringing foreign workers to erect sports facilities and other infrastructure in the thinly-populated emirate. Qatar’s strict oversight of its employees – which has been compared to a modern form of slavery – has been condemned by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.
For his part, Mayne-Nicholls, who vetted the 2022 bid sites in his capacity at FIFA, said Qatar was the least deserving of the nine countries in the running. “They came in dead last,” he said, having visited all the potential locations for World Cup competitions in 2018 and 2022.
FIFA has been engulfed in scandal ever since the United States government arrested and prosecuted Blatter and other top FIFA officials in a wide-ranging corruption probe. Qatar, meanwhile, has attracted negative attention for its heavy-handed global influence tactics, which have involved stealing and publishing the emails of Americans and the citizens of other Western countries.
While preparations for the next World Cup are now underway in the Qatari capital of Doha, Fuller said that he thought it was still possible to assign the upcoming World Cup to another country. “I still don’t think it’s too late,” he said.
Sam Cohen is a freelance writer based out of the Washington, D.C., area.