James M. Dorsey

Worrying Times: FIFA Opens Door to Investigation of Qatar’s World Cup Bid

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In a worrying development for Qatar, world soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter has for the first time opened the door to a possible investigation of the Gulf state’s successful but controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

In a series of interviews with media including Fox Soccer and Germany’s Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, Mr. Blatter said the soccer body’s newly created Good Governance Committee would have the authority to review the bid process that resulted last December in the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

Qatar’s bid has been mired in controversy prompted by questions about its well-funded bid campaign as well as potential problems because of its searing summer temperature, sour grapes on the part of its competitors and allegations made by a disgruntled employee of its bid committee.

The banning in July by FIFA of Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed Bin Hammam, Qatari national, on charges of bribery in his failed FIFA presidential campaign cast a further shadow over the Gulf state’s bid campaign. The banning of Mr. Bin Hammam, who denies all wrongdoing and is appealing the ban, is part of the worst corruption scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history.

Reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy engineered UEFA head Michel Platini’s vote in favour of the Qatari bid at a meeting in November of last year with Qatari Crown Prince Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani in which he also persuaded that Qatari to acquire financially trouble team Paris Saint-Germain have also revived questions about the Gulf state’s hosting of the World Cup. Qatar had in 2006 walked away from a possible acquisition the underachieving club that was haemorrhaging money and was renowned for its hooligan element.

French magazine So Foot reported that Mr. Platini, a former French national soccer team captain, had been dead set against Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid before being urged to change his mind at the meeting with Mr. Sarkozy. “He told me the Qataris were good people,” So Foot quotes Mr. Platini as saying.

The initial discrediting of the allegations against Qatar failed to stop the British parliament’s media and culture committee from demanding an investigation of the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar. German soccer federation boss Theo Zwanziger has also repeatedly demanded an investigation.

In an article in The Huffington Post, Damien Collins, a member of the parliamentary committee noted that “six months ago, Sepp Blatter promised reform at FIFA, yet in reality little has changed. There has yet to be a truly independent investigation into allegations of corruption made against FIFA executives during the bidding process to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. In the last year, 11 of the 24 leading members of FIFA, who make up its executive committee, have faced serious allegations of corruption.”

Mr. Blatter told Fox Soccer when asked if there is a process in place to rescind a World Cup bid that “if somewhere, something appears … this committee has to have a look [at] that and report it. And then we will see what will happen.”

Mr. Blatter went on to say that asking how the World Cups had been awarded “is not only a difficult question, it’s a good question.”

FIFA announced last week that the Good Governance Committee would be headed by Dr. Mark Pieth, a Basel professor serving as part of a United Nation’s team investigating alleged corruption in the Iraqi oil-for-food aid program.

Under FIFA rules, the world body’s ethics committee would adjudicate charges stemming from irregularities uncovered by the Good Governance Committee.

Speaking in London last month, Hassan al Thawadi, the Qatar bid committee’s secretary general said that the ”perception (of corruption) will always be a sense of frustration until we overcome how people view us.”

Mr. Al Thawadi insisted that the bid was conducted to the ”highest ethical and moral standards” and portrayed Qatar as the victim of a campaign in which ”baseless accusations were made against our bid. We were presumed guilty before innocent without a shred of evidence being provided.”

He said that “amid all the celebrations and joy, we knew that the work was only just beginning. What we did not know or expect was the avalanche of accusations and allegations that we would face in the immediate aftermath of what was a historic day for sport in our country and for the wider region.”

That avalanche could gain substantial momentum with Mr. Blatter shifting his position away from absolute rejection of any investigation into the Qatar bid.

At the same time, any investigation will also have to include a review of FIFA’s bid rules in an effort to tighten the process and eliminate the ability of bidders to influence the vote by for example funding soccer infrastructure in the home countries of members of the soccer body’s executive committee.

3 Responses to Worrying Times: FIFA Opens Door to Investigation of Qatar’s World Cup Bid

  1. Angus Khan 30/11/2011 at 6:05 AM

    I agree in that the Qatar bid was played under the rules of FIFA, as underhanded as they may be.

    Thus, I do not see this as being a black mark for Qataris, nor for the middle east, but rather, an indictment of FIFA and their means of bidding for these types of events.

  2. James M. Dorsey 28/11/2011 at 1:15 PM

    The can of worms is probably in FIFA’s rather than Qatar’s court

  3. JCWS 28/11/2011 at 12:41 PM

    Never comprehended the world’s love of football – even dragged to Old Trafford to see the “””world’s best””” by a close frined to try and convert me to no avail. So I’m always tentative about commenting on anything even remotely that touches on the beautiful game. However, it does seem from the river of claims against FIFA in the last 12 months that old-style bartering (sic) for votes, agile (sic) personal relationships and the like were very much built into the DNA of fottball’s governance until the Blatter implosion earlier this year. I could use the word corruption, but it seems that this sort of “””practice”” has defined the organisation for so long (from its inception) that it seemed second nature. Everyone played the game. On that note It is welcome that FIFA is finally putting its house in order; ultimately, whilst I generallly detest the impacts of bureacracy that come with all forms of tight governance, the game needs to be beyond reproach and governance is ultimately about fairness and justice.
    This said, I am very concerned that Qatar will be made a scapegoat. Are they really going to open the can of worms that they should if they go after Qatar? I don’t think so. My own view is that it would be better to put the past aside, leave the remainder of the partially opened can well alone (afterall we all know the horse has alreaady bolted) and get on with putting things right for the future. In this case dragging up the mess of the past can only hurt the game FIFA is there to protect and nurture – and damaging Qatar, as a soft target, is a cruel transparrent attempt to divert attention from the issues of leadership that created this sorry mess in the first place.

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