Yeah, I know. Nobody cares about soccer.
But this has as much to do with politics as sport, and the possibility that there will be a revote for a venue to host the 2022 World Cup would not only be unprecedented, but would probably enrage the Arab world.
The facts, contained in thousands of documents the Sunday Times was able to get a hold of, are fairly clear. A Qatari member of the international body that governs world soccer — FIFA — allegedly paid $5 million to various FIFA officials to get them to award the 2022 World Cup to the Gulf state.
The allegations center around former Qatari football official Mohamed Bin Hammam, who has twice been banned by FIFA for allegations of bribery and conflicts of interest. Qatar has denied that Bin Hammam was involved in the country’s World Cup bid, but the BBC has independently confirmed that the Times-obtained emails show he was lobbying on behalf of the country prior to the 2010 selection announcement. Qatar’s bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani once described Bin Hammam as the bid’s “biggest asset.”
Bin Hammam is said to have distributed the money to lower-level African football officials in an attempt to build a groundswell of support, and to have given disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner $1.6 million, including $450,000 prior to the vote.
The reaction to the report has been renewed calls for FIFA to revisit the location of the 2022 World Cup, especially in Britain where several members of Parliament have already called for a revote if the allegations prove to be true. The president of the Dutch football association has said FIFA should “reconsider the allocation” if the charges are proven, while FIFA’s current vice-president Jim Boyce has said he would be in favor of a re-vote if the Times report is ultimately confirmed.
Rejected bids from 2018 and 2022 included England and the United States, but Australia’s bid was probably the strongest considering the 2018 World Cup in Russia is already scheduled be held in a European country and the U.S. hosted just 20 years ago.
Jason List at The Big Lead suggested national boycotts were in order unless the 2022 World Cup is moved, but that seems like it might not even be necessary at this point. The current scandal could be so large that Qatar may lose the tournament without any such additional outside pressure on FIFA.
A boycott of the first World Cup ever held in a Muslim country is a real possibility, unless FIFA conducts a revote. Such a revote could lead to other boycotts by Arab and African countries who always feel like second class citizens in the soccer world. The Qatari World Cup was seen as boosting the prestige of teams in that region and taking the Cup away from Qatar might destroy the tournament anyway.
In truth, FIFA officials have been looking for a way to escape the Qatari 2022 nightmare almost since the tournament was awarded to the Gulf state in 2010. For controversy, think Sochi on steroids.
The allegations come on the eve of a meeting between Michael Garcia and Qatar officials. Garcia is a US attorney tasked in July 2012 by the FIFA executive to investigate ethics abuse within the world governing body.
In addition, Qatar has been under intense scrutiny for its human rights record and for lax workplace health and safety practices that have led to scores of construction workers being killed or injured in the Gulf State.
Then there is the issue of when the tournament will actually be played.
The Qatar bid for 2022 was based on a June-July schedule as were the other bids from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the USA. Since the award in 2010 the claim by Qatar that the stadiums would be air conditioned to cool the 50 degree summer heat has been found to be about as possible as their team winning the World Cup in 2014.
A move to a “winter” schedule is now seen as the only viable option if players and spectators are to participate and attend in a safe environment. But even then there are significant problems. A change in season will require an extensive shut down of some of the world’s major leagues – particularly in Europe – and there is also the 2022 Winter Olympics to consider. (Bidders for that event are dropping like players in Qatar summer heat but that is another story for another day.)
While complaints from European leagues might receive short shrift and be waved off as if coming from brats, it is harder to do the same to broadcasters who deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to the FIFA treasury each cycle.
A decision on the 2022 schedule may be made in March of next year but the Sunday Times’ bombshell, Garcia’s on-going investigation and discontent from wealthy leagues and broadcasters may derail the timeline.
It is extremely doubtful that Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, or any other major European club league would shut down their lucrative play to travel to Qatar to play in a world cup. There is also the popular Champions League Tournament featuring the best club teams in Europe that would have to be postponed or cancelled. Billions of dollars would be at stake, which makes the effort to undo the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar nearly a necessity.
Perhaps they will have to change the name of the tournament to the “Most of the World Cup” if boycotts by Arabs and Africans materialize. That would be a small price to pay to dodge all the trouble that should have been avoided by refusing to award the tournament to Qatar in the first place.