KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Shortly before the World Cup kicked off in Russia sports journalists covering the FIFA ‘beat’ began receiving a stream of virulent PR attacks on the staging of the 2022 finals in Qatar.

The message was not new. Qatar has been under attack ever since its shock victory over the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia in a ballot of the world federation’s executive committee on December 2, 2010.

December 2010: The prize, the president and the winner

Criticism on practical grounds concerned summer temperatures in the Gulf and the medieval treatment, common throughout the Gulf states, of construction workers from the Indian subcontinent; criticism on ethical grounds concerned the manner in which Qatar had used –  or, in the eyes of critics, misused – its wealth in the bid process.

As these themes began to recede so Qatar was assailed by a political and economic boycott led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This was launched in June last year.

Big headlines

Objections to its World Cup hosting were raised in antagonistic speeches by Saudi and UAE ministers. A belated realisation of the headline-grabbing success of such comments is assumed to have fuelled the recent launch of a specific anti-2022 PR campaign.

The latest assaults on Qatar 2022 should thus be viewed cautiously and in context.

Qatar 2022 has always denied any wrongdoing and was cleared of concerns of impropriety in a FIFA investigation led by American lawyer Michael Garcia. Indeed, given the febrile political climate in the Gulf, Saudi antagonism has gifted Qatar a perfect rebuttal weapon for any and every accusation, whether true or false.

The 2018/2022 World Cup bid process was a political catastrophe for not only FIFA but the credibility of sports governance generally.

In the autumn of 2010 a ‘sting’ operation by The Sunday Times entrapped two FIFA exco members into seeking bribes in return for their votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; subsequently the newspaper accessed emails revealing how then-Asian confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari, had lavished vast sums on favours (allegedly for Qatar’s bid but more probably in support of his own vain FIFA presidency pursuit).

The ST’s return to the fray on Sunday was headlined on the front page by the statements: ‘Exposed: Qatar sabotaged World Cup rivals with ‘black ops’’ and: ‘Whistleblower reveals ex-CIA agents and PR firm were hired in dirty tricks campaign that broke Fifa rules’.

Lengthy articles reveal how leaked “emails from a whistleblower show how the bid paid a public relations firm and former CIA agents to pump out fake propaganda about its main rivals, the United States and Australia.”

** The Supreme Committee rejects each and every allegation put forward by The Sunday Times. We have been thoroughly investigated and have been forthcoming with all information related to our bid, including the official investigation led by US attorney Michael Garcia. We have strictly adhered to all FIFA’s rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process – Qatar 2022

It claims: “The campaign involved recruiting influential people to attack the bids in their own countries, seeking to create the impression that there was ‘zero support’ for the World Cup domestically.”

The ST adds: “The revelations will add to growing calls for Qatar to be stripped of the right to host the World Cup.”

In fact, the only “growing” calls now are coming from Saudi Arabia and its allies. Other and long-term critics have conceded that it is too late, for legal, financial and logistical reasons, to alter the 2022 staging.

The ST, supporting its concerns, continues: “The latest revelations appear to be a flagrant breach of the rules . . . that bidders should not make ‘any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association.’”

One leaked email informed a senior bid official of “a plot to spread ‘poison’ against its chief rivals — even cooking up a resolution for the US Congress on the ‘harmful’ effects of an American World Cup in the week of the vote.”

** Qatar, it is clear, fought dirty to win the hosting of the 2022 World Cup. It is not too late for Fifa to revisit this decision and relocate the competition elsewhere. Otherwise it would be easy to conclude that, while the names have changed, the organisation has not. Mr Blatter may have gone but his legacy, in the form of Qatar 2022, remains – The Sunday Times

However the ST says only that he was made aware of it, not that the bid had instigated it or approved it. Oddly, it also implies malpractice in the standard business practice of commissioning analyses of rival bids.

Intriguingly for many journalists who followed the joint 2018/2022 bid process is a statement from New York-based PR company Brown Lloyd James, working for the Qataris, that it had employed former CIA agents to spread negative propaganda against bid rivals.

A claim that BLJ “recruited journalists, bloggers and other figures to hype up negative stories, spy on rivals, produce intelligence reports on key people and create grassroots protests” emanates from a progress report from BLJ president Mike Holtzman in early 2010. Substantiating articles and web links have yet to be published.

Next Sunday, presumably.

In the meantime Qatar’s fierce determination to stage the 2022 World Cup will only have been enhanced by seeing Russia gain far more in worldwide promotional positivity than it could ever have bought with any number of PR companies — BLJ or anyone else.

Saudi Arabia’s 13 demands of Qatar:

1, Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.

2, Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.

3, Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.

4, Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

5, Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.

6, Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.

7, Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.

8, End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.

9, Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.

10, Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.

11, Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.

12, Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.

13, Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.