KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA has maintained its post-Blatter strategy of looking to a better and brighter future in response to the latest headline reiterations of its dark and dismal past.
The Sunday Times, a long-time critic of the world football federation’s staging of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, returned to the attack at the weekend by linking the award to a multi-million-dollar TV rights offer shortly before the vote in 2010.
Quoting leaked files, it stated: “FIFA was directly offered almost $1bn by the Qatari state at crucial times in its efforts to host and retain the right to host the 2022 World Cup.”
The newspaper, with time draining away for Qatar critics, claimed Gulf state broadcaster Aljazeera offered $400m three weeks before the vote in December 2010 with a further $100m if the bid were successful.
A further $480m was offered by subsidiary beIN Media in April 2014, “shortly before FIFA cut short its investigation into the World Cup bidding process.”
Almost all members of the FIFA executive committee at the time have either been banned from football or quit the game in haste to avoid ethics charges.
These included the then president Sepp Blatter who was 83 on Sunday. Several of his colleagues were indicted by the United States judicial authorities in their FIFAGate corruption inquiry.
The 2018 and 2022 bidding processes were run in tandem. The 2018 finals were awarded to Russia which played host successfully last summer.
FIFA’s World Cup bidding scandal prompted a programme of governance reforms and an inquiry – largely perceived as unhelpful – by American attorney Michael Garcia.
The fall-out also sparked an investigation by Switzerland’s Attorney-General which is ongoing as well as the US’ FIFAGate case against more than 40 senior football and sports marketing executives and companies.
In response to The Sunday Times, a FIFA spokesman said: “Allegations linked to the FIFA World Cup 2022 bid have already been extensively commented by FIFA, who in June 2017 published the Garcia report in full on FIFA.com.
“Furthermore, please note that FIFA lodged a criminal complaint with the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland, which is still pending. FIFA is and will continue to cooperate with the authorities.
‘Transparency and fairness’
“Generally speaking and since the implementation of the reforms in 2016, FIFA has consistently improved its governance and compliance standards also when it comes to transparency and fairness of its commercial agreements.”
The timing of the latest rerun of an issue aired originally in a book by a former employee of the Australian bid for 2022 is intriguing.
The Aljazeera/beIN contracts were for broadcasting rights in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. This is the precise region in which Aljazeera sports programming is currently under attack from a pirate station called beoutQ and which is operating out of Saudi Arabia, across the border.
Saudi Arabia just happens to have led a coalition of nations in a political, commercial and economic blockade of Qatar since 2017.
Those nations include the United Arab Emirates which is running a candidate (Mohammed Al Romaithi) in forthcoming elections for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation. The other candidates include the incumbent president from Bahrain (Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa) and a Qatari (Saoud Aziz Al-Mohannadi).
Doubts about Qatar’s 2022 bid have existed ever since what will be the World Cup’s smallest host won the vote. Partly these were due to embarrassment at defeat for rivals with a long sporting history such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and – above all – the US.
The Qataris are estimated to have spent more money in promoting their campaign around the world than all the others put together. But no ‘smoking gun’ has ever been uncovered.
Allegations about illicit Qatari TV money were raised in the autumn of 2017 during the corruption trial in New York of three senior South American football officials.
Alejandro Burzaco, former boss of Argentina’s main sports marketing company TyC, gave evidence after agreeing a plea bargain.
His targets were Juan Angel Napout (ex-president of South American confederation CONMEBOL) and past heads of the Brazilian and Peruvian FAs, Jose Maria Marin and Manuel Burga.
Burzaco claimed that they had been among several senior Latin American officials who had been paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to vote for Qatar. His evidence was criticised by defence attorneys as having been deliberately self-serving.
Also in 2017 Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation, concerning the 2022 finals, against Nasser al-Khelaifi, the chief executive of beIN Media.
Al-Khelaifi, who is also president of French champions Paris Saint-Germain and a member of the UEFA executive committee, has denied bribing former FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke to ensure the award to beIN of broadcasting rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee to organise the 2022 finals has always denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
It still faces opposition to its hosting, notably from Saudi Arabia which has ‘weaponised’ the World Cup in the political dispute.
But time, for critics who want Qatar stripped of the finals, is running out. On Friday, in Miami, FIFA’s governing council will approve regulations for the 2022 qualifying competition and consider, even, whether to expand the number of finalists from 32 to 48.
With every passing day, Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup only grows more secure.
** The Sunday Times led the way in the autumn of 2010 with a proactive role in the self-incriminating entrapment of two FIFA exco members who were subsequently suspended and barred from voting on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awards.
In 2014 the newspaper claimed that Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari who was Asian confederation president from 2002 to 2011, had blurred the distribution of favours, gifts and bribes to sway the Qatar World Cup vote. The documentation had been drawn from Bin Hammam’s company email servers.
Most observers deduced from the data, however, that Bin Hammam’s priority had not been Qatar’s 2022 bid but his own campaign to oust Blatter as FIFA president.