Another day, another Qatar story
France Football has followed up last month’s somewhat sensationalist ‘Qatargate’ cover story with another ‘scoop’ on the origins of Qatar’s World Cup 2022 victory.
This time they look at links between the Gulf desert kingdom and Paraguay, home of CONMEBOL HQ and its president, Nicolas Leoz, who also sits on the FIFA Exco.
Leoz is understood to have voted for Qatar, along with his two fellow South American Exco members, Julio Grondona and Ricardo Teixiera. The focus of the article is the Emir of Qatar’s state visit to Paraguay in August 2010, when Leoz met the Qatari ruler in Asuncion in what are detailed as secretive circumstances.
Except… it can’t have been a very good secret because I reported on the visit for World Football Insider at the time and subsequently detailed the trip in a 12,000 word feature for the Blizzard magazine in June last year.
As part of the Emir’s state visit a cooperation agreement was signed between the countries promoting their ‘modernisation and capitalisation.’
Yet an unnamed source tells France Football that the Emir’s visit was a ‘smokescreen… a way of Leoz meeting the Qataris in Paraguay.’ There may be some element of truth in this and it’s an allegation I could probably attribute to any one of half a dozen FIFA insiders over the past two years. Certainly little seems to be beyond Leoz, who once (falsely) bragged to journalists he had been invited to Prince William’s wedding and was alleged to have asked for a knighthood in exchange for voting for England 2018.
But underlying the cooperation deal there were also serious stakes for an impoverished and landlocked country, stakes that transcended football.
Paraguay, which is energy poor, despite neighbouring Bolivia (which has South America’s second largest gas reserves) was reported locally to be seeking assistance in building a gas pipeline – an area in which Qatar has some considerable expertise – from Bolivia. It was suggested at the time that such a deal may have been one of the biggest pieces of inward investment Paraguay had seen.
Was such a cooperation agreement tied to Leoz’s vote for the 2022 World Cup? We’ll probably never know, but it was little coincidence that Qatar conducted several other trade deals with countries that possessed FIFA Exco members around this time. Certainly it’s my hypothesis that a big factor in Qatar’s eventual victory was linked to such deals, but they were by no means alone in bidders in using such tactics.
Would such a trade off be acceptable? Absolutely not, but then FIFA were incapable of protecting World Cup bidding from transnational interests, as I and others have repeated.
It’s a shame really that an august publication like France Football didn’t devote its resources to reporting on the World Cup bidding when it happened, instead of posthumously sensationalising stories that are (relatively) well known in the English language media. Perhaps at the time it wasn’t interested in upsetting its new partners at FIFA House, having seen its famous Ballon d’or award merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year in July 2010. (The financial details of this four year ‘partnership’ are still to be revealed) The reality was that BBC Panoroma, the Sunday Times, the main English language newsagencies and a few specialist publications were the only ones to really concentrate on the story as it unfolded.
Gaps were undoubtedly left in our wake, for Planet FIFA is a complex and covert world. Perhaps with more help at the time we would have more clues to work with now when trying to uncover the secrets of Russia and Qatar’s victories. But instead, as each day passes, the truth becomes buried a little further under the weight of sensationalism, rumour and counter rumour.