Even as the 2014 FIFA World Cup picks up steam in Brazil, attention has once again swung back to Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 event, following fresh allegations of corruption from the UK’s Sunday Times, and a lengthy rebuttal from Qatar’s bid team.
In today’s edition, which is behind a paywall, the weekly newspaper claims that FIFA officials deliberately ignored an assessment of the potential security risks of holding the tournament in Qatar, which had been judged to be high.
It cites a report written by South African police chief Andre Pruis, who said his conclusion was based on Qatar’s proximity to countries with an Al Qaeda presence. He also said it would be difficult to ensure security in a small country where all of the venues would inevitably be located near each other.
However, the newspaper quotes documents that acknowledge the report, produced shortly before the decision was awarded to Qatar, was based on “a very limited threat assessment,” primarily sourced from US anti-terrorism information.
There was no mention of whether other potential hosts, such as the US or UK, faced potential risks, despite both countries being the subject of attacks by terrorists.
The Sunday Times also stated that the chief executive of Qatar’s World Cup bid, Hassan al-Thawadi, gave FIFA official Mohamed Bin Hammam support during his campaign to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.
At the time, Bin Hammam, a Qatari, had yet to be called into question over bribery allegations and banned from football by FIFA.
Finally, the Sunday Times suggested impropriety in the appointment of former FIFA Head of Security Chris Eaton as the director of the International Centre for Sport Security in Doha in 2012.
Eaton had previously been asked to investigate a voting pact between Qatar and Spain-Portugal, who had bid for the 2018 World Cup.
Eaton’s lawyers told the paper that there had been “nothing improper whatsoever” about the appointment.
Faced with this renewed onslaught, the 2022 World Cup organizing body, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SCDL), has issued a detailed statement calling the allegations “baseless and riddled with innuendo.”
It’s the first time the committee has issued such a frank and forthright response, after previously preferring only to deny the allegations.
In the statement, the SCDL argues that the allegations were released as part of a deliberate attempt to influence a FIFA investigation into long-standing accusations of wrongdoing during the awarding of both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and Qatar’s 2022 bid. It states:
“They are… a flagrant attempt to prejudice an ongoing independent investigation. If the source of these leaks were genuinely concerned with the evidence, they would have provided the leaked documents to (FIFA Ethics Chief Michael) Garcia, as he requested, instead of offering them to the media.”
The statement does not specify who would be behind such an orchestrated leak, and when asked for clarification, a 2022 spokesman told Doha News that the committee had “no further comment to make” on the matter.
The committee goes on to point out that its officials have complied with all requests to be interviewed as part of FIFA’s investigation, adding that, as the presumed underdog in the race, the bid team had “worked harder than anyone else,” but had always kept within the bidding rules.
The SDCL also sought to distance itself from Bin Hamman, stating that “Mr. Bin Hammam is from Qatar, but he was not a member of Qatar’s bid team.” They say that the team had a working relationship with him, which was “not improper.”
The committee added:
“We believed a World Cup in Qatar would provide an opportunity to confound stereotypes, break down cultural barriers and give the rest of the world a better understanding of the Arab nations and the Middle East,” they write. “Sadly, at this point, that has not been allowed to happen.”
The Sunday Times stories are just the latest in a long stream of critical articles about Qatar in international press, and from UK media in particular.
Last week, FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested that that the corruption claims had been motivated by racism, an argument that has clearly chimed with many Qataris, who’ve been discussing their views on Twitter.
One prominent Qatari media personality, Ilham Badr, went as far as calling upon her fellow nationals to boycott the UK this summer, in protest at the negative media coverage.
Last week, she tweeted to her 105,000 followers to avoid taking their summer vacations in the UK for now, saying:
— إلهام بدر (@elhambader1) June 12, 2014
Translation: “I call on all Qataris and lovers of Qatar to boycott Britain this summer and replace it with other beautiful cities that are not racist and whose governments are not defaming our country.”
The message prompted several replies, from many people who agreed with her. However, her views do not seem to have prompted a full scale boycott campaign on Twitter, despite reports to the contrary in local newspapers.
Despite talk of a summer travel boycott, it’s clear that the UK and Qatar still consider themselves important trading partners.
At a UK trade and investment conference in London this week, Gareth O’Brien, Director of Trade and Investment at the British Embassy in Doha, told delegates that Qatar mattered “more and more” to the UK:
“Last year the UK exported £100mn worth of cars; we export pharmaceuticals, security equipment, luxury goods – you name it, we sell it to Qatar” he said.
Qatar is the UK’s third largest export market in the region, with exports totaling £1.46 billion in 2013, a 12% increase on 2012. British oil giant Shell is the single largest foreign investor in Qatar with an investment of $21bn.
Meanwhile, the Qatari government is thought to have at least £22 billion invested in the UK, including stakes in airport operator BAA, supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, Barclays bank, the London Stock Exchange, Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, and world famous store Harrods.
Though the idea of a boycott doesn’t seem to be gaining momentum, the hashtag #فوبيا_قطر (Qatar Phobia) seems to have caught on, with many Qataris expressing their frustrations at what they see as baseless allegations motivated by jealousy and racism.
#فوبيا_قطر النجاح يولد الحقد والكره من أصحاب النفوس الضعيفة وبدل ان يعمل ويجتهد يحاول تدمير والتقليل من شأن أي نجاح يحققه الخصم .
— Khalid قطر (@QtarKhalid) January 25, 2013
“Success breeds hatred,” writes @QtarKhalid, motivating “weak souls” to “belittle any success achieved by an opponent.”
Meanwhile, some Qatari tweets have pointed to the apparent weakness of today’s new claims in the Sunday Times, whilst others have called for the country to step up its PR efforts to counter all claims made against Qatar’s bid.
@Halawala I'm not liking how our local media dealing with it as an all imperial conspiracy theory. we seriously need better PR here!!!
— AbdulRahman Al Baker (@Aalbaker) June 15, 2014