Will Hassan al-Thawadi follow in the footsteps of his compatriot, Mohamed Bin Hammam?
Qatar 2022 conspiracy theorists look away now – or at least find a darkened room.
A week out from nominations closing for AFC elections, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur at the start of May, there are growing murmurs that a significant candidate will emerge from the Gulf Kingdom of Qatar.
The AFC’s Extraordinary Congress on 2 May will settle its leadership vacuum that follows the demise of the former AFC’s president, Mohamed Bin Hammam, 20 months ago. His former role will be up for grabs along with those for a female Vice-President, two female members of its Executive Committee and a position on the FIFA Executive Committee.
Qatar is not interested in pursuing the AFC presidency, which is already being chased by three West Asian (and Gulf-based) candidates, Saudi Arabia’s Hafez Al Medlej, Yousuf Al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
But, with the World Cup on the albeit distant horizon, the country is understood to be looking to reassert its presence at FIFA’s top table. The AFC presidency does not guarantee a place on the FIFA Executive Committee and, as Keir Radnedge reports, ‘The QFA president, Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, according to the Arab language media, has expressed an interest here on behalf of the 2022 World Cup host.’
This really should not be too surprising. Qatar’s World Cup bid was won on many fronts, but it would have been virtually impossible without Bin Hammam, the dealmaker supreme who forged a pact with the Spain-Portugal 2018 bid that set Qatar on the road to victory. It’s no surprise that in football politics terms it has received a battering since Bin Hammam’s protective hand was removed in 2011. A backlash against Qatar has since followed, and although it has attained football’s ultimate prize, its federation often finds itself adrift in the toxic waters of sport politics.
Much work needs to be done both to convince the world that it is a worthy host and convince FIFA. This might seem like an odd thing to write given that it voted for Qatar’s win, but there are elements on the FIFA Exco and in world football in general who are committed to using any pretext to strip the Gulf kingdom of its trophy. A Qatari member on the FIFA Exco would be politically expedient and bring it in from the cold.
This would present two obvious candidates: the Emir’s youngest son, Sheikh Mohammed, who served as chairman of Qatar’s World Cup bid; and Hassan al-Thawadi, who served as its CEO. It is understood that if Qatar presents an Exco candidate al-Thawadi is the most likely to be it.
This will no doubt infuriate the considerable anti-Qatar constituency, whose rhetoric is increasingly hysterical (and offensive to many Arabs, not just in Qatar) and whose most extreme elements point to some vast and unfathomable pro-Qatari global football conspiracy.
Personally, I think his candidature would be a good thing. Not because I have any particularly strong feelings about Qatar (my own view is that World Cup 2022 will not be the disaster others predict, but that the USA would have been the correct choice), but because the FIFA Exco is packed with mediocrity and he would improve it. From my own experience of him al-Thawadi is the sort of person you would want there. He is young, passionate, persuasive, charismatic and inclusive – the sort of qualities that are lacking in most of his prospective colleagues. His work with Qatar 2022 has displayed fine attention to detail, but he also grasps the bigger picture. Selling his World Cup bid as an event for the Middle East was one such masterstroke.
This is all, of course, conjecture at this stage, and football politics tends to be full of red herrings. But all will no doubt become clearer over coming days.