Updated on June 9 to include official statement from FIFA
Fueling uncertainty about the locations of the next two World Cups, a senior FIFA official has said that the organization could consider moving the 2018 and 2022 tournaments out of Russia and Qatar if evidence of wrongdoing during the bid process turns up.
In an interview with Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung that was published today, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee said, according to Reuters:
“If evidence should emerge that the awards to Qatar and Russia only came about thanks to bought votes, then the awards could be invalidated. This evidence has not yet been brought forth.”
Domenico Scala’s remarks – which come as Swiss officials investigate both Qatar and Russia’s bids – suggest that the Gulf country’s right to host the football tournament isn’t as secure as officials here have asserted.
However, on Monday FIFA issued an official statement saying it has no legal grounds to strip either country of their hosting rights. CNN reports the organization as saying:
“Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups by democratic vote of the Executive Committee. Based on expert opinions and available facts, FIFA has no legal grounds to take away the hosting of the FIFA World Cup from Russia and Qatar.”
Still, FIFA did not address if this would remain the case if evidence of corruption surfaces, saying only, “We will not speculate on possible scenarios and therefore have no further comments for the time being.”
Where Qatar stands
Qatar has consistently denied any wrongdoing when it comes to bidding for the World Cup.
Last week, the country’s foreign minister said there was “no way” that the 2022 tournament would be moved to another country.
In recent years, many football fans – In recent years, many football fans – as well as a US senator and the head of the English Football Association – have suggested Qatar be stripped of the tournament amid bribery allegations and criticism of the Gulf state’s human rights records.
Few, however, actually exert any influence over where the World Cup is held.
Scala’s remarks mark the first time that a senior FIFA executive has commented on the issue since last month’s scandal involving the arrest of several football officials on racketeering and fraud charges and President Sepp Blatter’s abrupt resignation last week.
But last year, FIFA’s vice-president Jim Boyce said in a radio interview that he’d have “no problem” re-running the vote for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights if that was the recommendation of FIFA’s then-ethics chief, Michael Garcia.
“If Garcia comes up with concrete evidence … then it has to be looked at very seriously at that time,” Boyce told the BBC.
A summary of Garcia’s report suggested misdeeds occurred during the bidding process for both the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, but that there was insufficient evidence to discredit the overall process.
However, Garcia said the summary released by FIFA misrepresented his investigation. He later resigned from his position.
While losing the tournament would be symbolically embarrassing for Qatar, it would unlikely have a major impact on the country’s economy, some experts said.
At the moment, work on most of the would-be World Cup stadiums is only in the preliminary stages.
And apart from the venues themselves, many of the country’s major development projects -such as the Doha Metro – are likely to continue, albeit at a slower pace.
“The infrastructure projects will happen at some stage anyway. But without this event, there isn’t the motivation to get them done quickly,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Sonia Baldeira was quoted as saying.