There has been much buffoonery since The Sunday Times disclosed email correspondence from former Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed Bin Hammam apparently linked to the 2022 World Cup bid. Among other disclosures was the jaw dropper that a $5 million secret fund was set up intended to influence the vote for the 2022 World Cup host or, maybe, just maybe, the 2011 election for FIFA President.
But the issue is more complicated than many members of the peanut gallery would like to consider, eagerly demonstrated by a columnist writing for The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia who agitated for taking the tournament away from Qatar and suggested (natch) Australia as an alternative host.
“We do have the climate, the infrastructure and the on-site crowds you need, in a fabulously multicultural community that will turn out in force no matter which country is playing. (Get Greece, if they qualify, to play their opponents in Melbourne, and then watch the stampede to the ticket office.)”
Yes. Apparently it really is that simple.
There is, however, a little matter of a legal contract that FIFA and Qatar has signed. Unsurprisingly, Qatar denies any wrong doing and bribery is difficult to prove conclusively and takes a significant amount of time and effort for lawyers. Wait. Did someone mention lawyers? So it is expensive too. Expect any legal battle to conclude sometime in May 2023.
As Jack Anderson, a professor of sports law, kindly points out, Qatar’s simple defence if allegations against Bin Hammam are proven true is that he was a “rogue agent” acting beyond his role. Qatar has already distanced itself from Bin Hammam and the former AFC President is no longer part of FIFA. So what jurisdiction handles a corruption enquiry against him as an individual? Erm… the FIFA police? Probably not. We have already seen how FIFA has treated other (former) members of its Executive Committee when they are under a cloud – by reaching for an umbrella and ignoring what’s clear to pretty much everyone else.
There’s also the small matter of geopolitics. James Dorsey, an academic with insight into Middle East politics and soccer, highlights in his blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, the complicated relationships and issues in the Gulf region that make taking the 2022 World Cup from Qatar about significantly more than football.
Dorsey says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates might support taking the tournament from their neighbor because they oppose Qatar’s “idiosyncratic foreign policy, including Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood” but at the same time that action may “fuel perceptions in significant parts of the Muslim world of discrimination on the grounds of religion and ethnicity.”
So there’s that.
Qatar will also fight to retain its rights because the World Cup is a key tool in its use of global soft power alongside its diplomacy (see its role in recently negotiating the release of a missing U.S. soldier), its airline, the Aljazeera television network, high profile and high value investments in European sports, business, and media, and art acquisitions.
And if the World Cup is taken away from Qatar the compulsion to improve the living and working conditions of migrant workers, the largest section of the population, is also tossed aside. The conditions in Qatar are awful but currently and embarrassingly in the spotlight and, according to Dorsey, “having a ripple effect throughout the Gulf… being driven by the World Cup that empowered human rights and labour activists.”
So there’s that too.
The issue is not simple and with every action there is a reaction. Regardless of how Qatar did win the 2022 bid (and it definitely spent more money that its rivals but if you have it then why not?), the actual problem is in the systemic corruption inherent in how FIFA decides the host nation.
It is actually that which is the simple part. Regardless of any truth, a truth that we may never know, the experience with 2022 should serve as the absolute catalyst for change in a obviously corruptible system.
And we haven’t even got to 2018 yet.