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Qatargate

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France Football have published a 15 page investigation into Qatar 2022. Here are some of my thoughts on it.

A decade ago, Germany’s Manager Magazin published a devastating expose of how the country had won the hosting rights for the 2006 World Cup. Although the tournament would go on to be one of the best organised in World Cup history, the nature of its bid success was subsequently described to me as ‘the biggest scandal in FIFA history.’ More than a decade later in South Africa – which was Germany’s vanquished rival and subsequently awarded the 2010 edition – resentment still burns at the way it was overlooked for the 2006 World Cup. 

Manager detailed an intricate nexus of corruption and backhanders to FIFA Exco members that won Germany the hosting rights. It was an outstanding piece investigative journalism. To FIFA’s shame (and to little surprise) it did not investigate the claims and punish the implicated Exco members or Germany.

More than two years out from the conclusion of a dual bid race even more discredited than that for 2006, France Football, one of the world’s great sporting publications, has published a 15 page investigation into Qatar 2022. This is a serious, erudite, heavyweight piece of journalism, and credit to its editors for covering such a big issue at a time when the rest of Europe’s sport media are predominantly obsessed with the mindless intricacies of the January transfer window.

But it is, alas, no Manager Magazin and those familiar with the way the story has unravelled over the past few years while find little new. Most of the issues were outlined in my own 12,000 essay, The Fall Out, published in The Blizzard last June. I wrote from the context of covering the bid race for 18 months, visiting most of the nine candidate countries and meeting all of the key players. Other journalists, including Keir Radnedge, Andrew Warshaw, Martyn Ziegler, Mike Collett, Mark Bisson and others have covered this story with similar attention to detail and experiences.

France Football have published a compendium of allegations to have surfaced in relation to Qatar before and since FIFA’s bid decision.

In summary they are:

The votes of Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were bought for $1.5million apiece. This was alleged by the Qatari whistleblower, Phaedra al-Majid and brought to public attention (without her consent) by a British Parliamentary Select Committee. Al-Majid subsequently retracted these and other accusations, although the circumstances behind her mea culpa are mysterious.

The allegations made against Amos Adamu and his son, Samson, by the Sunday Times are outlined.

That Qatar sponsored the 2010 CAF Congress.

The influence of the Qatari sports institute, Aspire, and its global outreach programme

The meetings between then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UEFA president Michel Platini and the Qatari Crown Prince and how geopolitics swung Platini to favour Qatar.

That Qatar allegedly considered a TV deal in Argentina to buy the favour of Julio Grondono.

Ricardo Teixiera and his links to Middle East holding companies.

The use of ‘prestige’ international football friendlies to garner influence.

It’s a well articulated piece and important that all these aspects are put into a single narrative, but there’s no real smoking gun. I think the journalist James M. Dorsey is most on the money when he is quoted: 'The Qataris were very malignant and explored all the shadows and were near to the edge of the cliff, but, in my opinion, didn't cross the yellow line.'

For me the only new revelation was that a couple of Swiss law firms are looking at the legalities of a winter switch, and that Karl Heinz Rummenigge, president of the European Clubs Association, says on the record for the first time that he is not averse to making European club football a summer game. While the Qatar Supreme Committee get a right of reply, it wasn’t clear from my reading whether the reporter had actually visited Qatar.

There is also a lack of context regarding the bid race itself. The rules of engagement – such as they were – set out by FIFA were there to be exploited. They were wholly inadequate and this was compounded by the ludicrous decision to simultaneously run the 2018 and 2022 races. This led to all sorts of vote trading, secret (and illegal) pacts and other horseplay.

The lack of context is slightly troubling, because it adds to the Qatar-bad, everyone else-virtuous narrative which is overly simplistic. The reality is far more nuanced and complex than those assumptions would suggest. I think it’s fair to say that few people came out of the bid race with much credit and while it may have been more palatable for England, the US or Australia to have won hosting rights, they lost out to healthier resourced opponents who played to the margins better than they did.

Every bid that was in serious contention sought to exploit loopholes in the bid guidelines and played to the line. Yes, Qatar sponsored the CAF Congress, but England 2018 supported the Caribbean Football Union’s annual beanfest. It’s true that Qatar had the influential (and subsequently disgraced) Mohamed Bin Hammam, but the United States had those paradigms of virtue Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer. Qatar spent millions on PR consultants, but other bids spent a lot of money and charmed and bullied and smeared journalists (the vitriolic campaign against Andrew Jennings and his Panorama programme on FIFA was one of the most disgraceful things I’ve witnessed in journalism).  And you think that Australia, which pumped millions of its taxpayers money into the pockets of people like Fedor Radmann played a straight bat? And then there’s the 22 men who made the decision, half of whom have had significant questions about there integrity posed since December 2010.  I could go on (and on).

It was a dirty game and the victors, whoever they were, were always going to be tainted. That’s something Qatar and Russia probably realise comes with the territory. The truth about their victories, alas, remains elusive. But we will keep digging.

Tags world cup 2022 qatar