Qatar in the hot seat again over new 2022 bribery allegations

Qatar 2022

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Updated at 12:30 to include comments made by FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce to the BBC. Updated again at 19:15 to include statement from Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy.

New corruption allegations surrounding Qatar and its 2022 World Cup bid have surfaced following a front-page report in weekly newspaper the Sunday Times (paywall).

In a series of articles, the newspaper states that it has obtained “millions” of documents that show Qatar bribed FIFA Executive Committee members with payments totaling some $5 million to help secure support for its bid.

It’s not clear what impact, if any, the alleged bribes had when FIFA awarded hosting rights to Qatar. But allegations of corruption have dogged the country since the vote, and this new report is likely to give critics fresh ammunition with which to question the bid.

The Sunday Times states that emails, letters and bank transfers detail how Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari official who formerly served as president of the Asian Football Confederation, began lobbying for Qatar’s bid in 2008.

Mohamed Bin Hammam

Mohamed Bin Hammam/Facebook

The documents apparently show that Bin Hammam built support for the Gulf state among African football officials through several payments, parties and gifts – which FIFA officials are not allowed to accept.

His actions helped buy the four votes of African ExCo members, the Sunday Times states.

For its part, Qatar’s World Cup organizing body, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, said it “vehemently” denies all allegations of wrongdoing.

“Mohamed Bin Hammam played no official or unofficial role in Qatar’s 2022 Bid Committee … (We) remain totally confident that any objective enquiry will conclude we won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup fairly.”

Bin Hammam resigned from all football-related activities two years ago, shortly before being banned from the sport for life by FIFA over bribery charges when he was a presidential hopeful of the organization.

The 65-year-old declined to comment to the newspaper about the allegations, though Qatar’s bid committee told the Sunday Times it denied all involvement or knowledge of such actions.

But according to the Sunday Times:

“However, the leaked documents show close contact with the leaders of the Qatar bid, arranging a lavish junket paid for by the 2022 team at which he offered football officials large payments in exchange for their support.”

Implications

In his blog “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer,” James Dorsey points out that any sort of impropriety of this scope should give FIFA officials pause. He states that the fallout of these charges, if they can be proven, could include:

  • A rerunning of the 2022 bid vote;
  • Increased pressure on FIFA and other football bodies to radically reform;
  • A dialing back of labor rights improvement in Qatar, as the international spotlight fades; and
  • A weakening of Qatar’s soft power and thus ability to stand up to neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Still, the Sunday Times, which is planning a weeks-long series on this issue, has so far only alleged that four votes from African ExCo officials were bought, while some 22 14 out of 24 people supported Qatar in the landslide 2010 vote. Whether those handful of votes changed the direction that the vote was going is unclear.

But that may not matter, Dorsey told Doha News:

“If true, (the charges) would constitute bribery and corruption as part of the bid process and give Qatar’s detractors a significant axe to grind. It also makes a refusal to review the awarding as well as FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s position more difficult. The bottom line at this point is that Qatar can no longer afford to be non-transparent about the details of its bid campaign and its relationship to Bin Hammam.”

The allegations come as Qatari officials were set this week to meet with FIFA’s chief investigator Michael Garcia, who has been looking into long-standing accusations of wrongdoing during the awarding of both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and Qatar’s 2022 bid.

According to the BBC, “that meeting may now have to be postponed in light of the Sunday Times revelations which have raised important new questions about the link between Bin Hammam and the successful Qatari World Cup campaign.”

‘No problem’ re-running vote

Following the publication of the Sunday Times’ story, FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce told the BBC that he would have “no problem” re-running the vote for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights if that’s the recommendation of FIFA’s ethics chief, Michael Garcia. He’s currently investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Boyce said:

“If Garcia’s report comes up and his recommendation are that wrongdoing happened for that vote for the 2022 World Cup, I – as a member of the executive – would have absolutely no problem if the recommendation was for a re-vote … If Garcia comes up with concrete evidence … then it has to be looked at very seriously at that time.”

Boyce, who had not read the Sunday Times stories, also speculated that the latest bribery allegations may have been related to Bin Hammam’s run for FIFA presidency:

“Was a lot of this involved with him trying to influence people, to buy votes or to vote for him for the presidential election as well? That was going on at the same time (as the 2022 World Cup vote).”

Thoughts?

Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Qatar received 14 out of 24 Executive Committee member votes for the 2022 bid, not 22.

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