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Corruption Cloud Hangs Over Qatar’s World Cup 2022

Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), attends a news conference at the Sports Congress and Exhibition at Aspire Dome in Doha Nov. 17, 2010.
Brazil is setting off the fireworks and fanfare for the start of World Cup 2014.

But half a world away in Qatar, a dark cloud now hangs over its winning bid to host football’s greatest international competition in 2022.

And, the storm over that Persian Gulf state appears to be growing, along with calls for the 2022 selection to be reopened.

At the cyclone’s center is the allegation that Qatar "bought" its World Cup hosting victory when that decision was made in December 2010.

The Sunday Times of London reported on June 1 that a former vice president of FIFA, football’s global governing body, paid a total of some $5 million to bribe some of those voting to choose Qatar over the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The accused briber, 65-year-old Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, has been booted out of football twice.

FIFA ejected him in 2011 after he was caught buying votes in an effort to become the association’s president. After that ban was overturned in court, he was ejected a second time in 2012 for improprieties while president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Scandal reports

Published reports in The Sunday Times and elsewhere say the disgraced Qatari spread favors and payments to a number of football officials – especially from Africa and the Caribbean – to create a majority in favor of awarding the 2022 Cup to Qatar.

Bin Hammam has offered no public reaction to these corruption allegations.

London’s Telegraph newspaper says FIFA’s vice president, also the head of UEFA, Europe’s football governing group, Michel Platini, met privately with Bin Hammam shortly before the hosting vote. While Platini insists he did not discuss Qatar’s bid with Bin Hamman, he has admitted that he voted for Qatar.

But he reacts strongly to insinuations that his meeting with the Qatari was improper.

"I find it astonishing that conversations with a fellow member of the FIFA Executive Committee could suddenly be transformed into a matter of state," Platini said in a UEFA statement.

Qatar’s response to these bribery allegations has been a strong denial of any wrongdoing. Its World Cup 2022 Organizing Committee issued a statement on June 1 saying it "always upheld the highest standards of ethics and integrity in its successful bid."

The committee went on to say that Bin Hammam "played no official or unofficial role in the bid committee."

FIFA’s boilerplate statement included this: "The right [by Qatar] to host the tournament was won because it is time for the Middle East to host its first FIFA World Cup."

In the face of the Times’ and others’ charges, FIFA is defending itself by pointing to its ongoing investigation of the Qatar 2022 award.

Investigation quickens

FIFA’s top ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, a former federal prosecutor in New York, has been traveling the globe for than a year to interview participants in the 2022 Cup bid process.

"We intend to complete that phase of our investigation by June 9," Garcia is quoted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, "and to submit a report to the adjudicatory chamber [proper officials] approximately six weeks thereafter."

That would put the report’s release after the July 13 conclusion of the 2014 World Cup games in Brazil.

While Garcia is quoted as saying "the report will consider all evidence potentially related to the bidding process," others say that is not true, because Garcia has indicated that he will not consider the evidence collected by the Sunday Times in its investigation of the Cup award.

One critic is Jim Murphy, Britain’s "Shadow Secretary" for International development.

"If the Garcia investigation refuses to accept the Sunday Times evidence," Murphy is quoted by Yahoo Sports as saying, "the process will be a sham, and FIFA forever tainted."

The Qatar scandal is prompting robust comment from across football.

Britain’s Lord Goldsmith, a member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee, says the 2022 Cup awards process must be done over if the bribery accusations prove accurate.

The head of Britain’s Football Association, Greg Dyke, also says Qatar must be removed under the same circumstances.

Football Federation Australia chief David Gallop says Australia may move to bid again for the 2022 Cup if the opportunity presents itself. Gallop also says his FFA is cooperating with FIFA in this investigation.

One sports integrity group, the Doha, Qatar-based International Centre for Sport Security, recently released a major report on illicit sports betting, including the billions wagered on the World Cup.

But the ICSS has told VOA that it will refrain from public comment on the Qatar 2022 Cup award until after FIFA’s investigatory report is released.

FIFA scrutiny

Along with controversy over the 2022 Cup hosting decision is the one for 2018, in which Britain’s bid was sidelined in favor of Russia. That decision was also made at FIFA’s December 2010 meeting, and is now under scrutiny for possible improprieties.

Yuichiro Nakajima, who headed Japan’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup, goes beyond the Qatar investigation to call for FIFA’s internal overhaul.

"All of this points to the need for a major reform at how FIFA is governed," he said.

Lord Goldsmith echoed that, telling British radio that "if FIFA is to emerge from the scandals – and this isn’t the only one, there are other issues – it has to produce a convincing and transparent answer to these allegations, particularly to these hosting decisions."

Britain’s “Shadow Sports Minister,” Clive Efford, says the cleanup needed for football’s international governance body includes kicking FIFA’s president to the curb.

_The question has to be asked," Efford said, "whether anyone has any faith in a FIFA run by Sepp Blatter."
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    Jeffrey Young

    Jeffrey Young is a Senior Analyst in VOA’s Global English TV.  He has spent years covering global strategic issues, corruption, the Middle East, and Africa. During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include video journalism and the “Focus” news analysis unit. He also does journalist training overseas for VOA.

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