As support grows for moving the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the colder months, everybody seems to have forgotten that the competition should not have gone to Qatar in the first place. A tapestry of coincidence and allegations of corruption have marred the vote from the beginning – and perhaps a revote is in order. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
It’s taken the best part of three years for Fifa and co. to realise they may have made a mistake in allocating the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Particularly in recent months, debate has raged over whether it’s feasible to host the tournament in the summer months in the Gulf country, where temperatures can top 40 degrees Celcius in the daytime. Although matches will most likely be played at night, when temperatures drop to around 30, that’s still not ideal – and there’s a strong argument for the tournament to be moved.
European football federations are the latest to have added their voices to the protest, and have now planned for a task force to be set up to find an alternative.
“Obviously there are certain reservations regarding the World Cup in Qatar, but everyone agrees that it would be impossible to play in the severe heat of Qatar in the summer,” Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce told Sky television.
“It is very important that we get this right,” he added, speaking in a phone interview after a meeting of the 54 European football federations in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“They all agree that to play the World Cup, to take thousands of fans to the biggest sporting event in the middle of summer, would be impossible.”
Fifa will most likely agree in principle during its executive meeting in October, and Sepp Blatter has already admitted he’s made a mistake.
Last week, Blatter said: “After many discussions, deliberations and critical review of the entire matter, I came to the conclusion that playing the World Cup in the heat of Qatar’s summer was simply not a responsible thing to do.”
Which cooler months exactly is still up for debate, but there isn’t much room for manoeuvre. Qatar’s coolest months are from January to March, but that is when the European league competitions are at their most tense and international players will be under contract to perform for their clubs.
Furthermore, broadcasting and sponsorship obligations will also be under threat and would pose a massive impact legally. It is also at risk of clashing with the Winter Olympics, not ideal for relations between the two sporting bodies.
Shifting the tournament three months earlier than scheduled also poses a massive issue for the deadlines due to be met in terms of constructions and infrastructure. Those are handed out years in advance and are planned meticulously in order to ensure timely delivery.
Why the World Cup was handed to Qatar in the first place is perhaps the more pressing question.
The vote for the 2022 has been under scrutiny since 2011, when a corruption scandal hit Fifa. Jerome Valcke even admitted that an email saying “Qatar bought the World Cup” was sent out, but denied alleging any corruption. The plot thickened surrounding the vote and earlier this year, France Football (FF) published a 20-page report suggesting the bid was a complete scam, which followed up on allegations from a newspaper in London a year ago.
Qataris allegedly paid $1.5 million each to buy the crucial votes of African confederation president Issa Hayatou (Cameroon) and Jacques Anouma, as well as two other African members on the FIFA executive committee.
Nigeria’s Amos Adamu was eventually banned in the run-up to the vote, and could not take part, but that didn’t stop various allegations from creeping in. That story of the brown enevelopes was eventually denied by whistleblower Phaedra Al Majid, who said she had made the whole thing up.
It didn’t stop there, though. Spanish Football Federation President Angel Maria Villar Llona was apparently also buttered up with a sweet deal following an exhibition match in Doha. The two sides squared off in February this year which earned the Spanish FA €3 million in financial compensation in order to keep the president quiet.
Aspire, a Qatari sports agency, also allegedly splashed out millions of dollars on promoting youth sports in countries which had members on the FIFA Executive committee that would in turn vote to decide who would be hosing the 2022 World Cup.
Further concerns were raised when Blatter said in an interview with German magazine Die Zeit that it was a political thing.
“Yes, definitely there were direct political influences,” Blatter said. “European leaders recommended to their voting members to vote for Qatar, because they have great economic interests with this country.”
That further address to allegations that France President Nicolas Sarkozy put pressure on UEFA president and key FIFA vice-president Michel Platini to change his support from the US to Qatar for political reasons. In exchange for the vote, the Qataris would both create a sports satellite TV channel and buy Paris Saint-Germain.
In 2011, Qatar Investment Authority became the majority shareholder of PSG after buying a controlling 70% of the shares. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not. QIA bought the club in a deal worth €50m, which saw an estimated €20m in debt and losses covered. PSG is now the richest club in France.
That same company also owns beIN Sports TV network in France, but Platini has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
“I made my choice with complete independence following a simple logic … opening up countries who have never organised major sporting events … With the same concern for transparency, it was me who revealed to the media that a few weeks before the vote I was invited to dinner by Nicolas Sarkozy,” he said.
While it would be perfectly possible to host a summer World Cup in Qatar, provided the games kick off later in the evening, there are also pressing questions surrounding why the hosting was awarded to the Gulf Country in the first place. DM
Photo: Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani and his wife Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser al-Misnad hold a copy of the World Cup trophy he received from FIFA President Sepp Blatter (unseen) after the announcement that Qatar will be the host nation for the FIFA World Cup 2022, in Zurich in this December 2, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann