Tuesday, June 03, 2014

2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar: a convenient leak?

Last weekend, the Sunday Times published allegations that Mohamed Bin Hammam, former President of the Asian Football Confederation and member of FIFA’s Executive Committee, attempted to bribe football executives in order to secure votes for Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The allegations are supported by a cache of leaked documents which appear to reveal that Bin Hammam made a total of US$5 million in secret payments, in particular to heads of African football associations.

Following concerns expressed by the Asian Football Confederation, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the organising committee for the 2022 World Cup, has denied the allegations. It stressed that Bin Hammam played ‘no official or unofficial role’ in Qatar’s 2022 bid, despite his Qatari nationality.

However, as the BBC points out, the ‘vast majority’ of African officials allegedly receiving payments did not have a vote. The Sunday Times is to publish further articles alleging that Bin Hammam’s strategy was to build a groundswell of support in Africa, which would then influence the four African members of the 22-strong (two were suspended from voting) FIFA Executive Committee members who did hold a vote.

As well as categorically denying the accusations made in the Sunday Times, a media statement from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) appears to question the logic of Bin Hammam’s alleged strategy. ‘The Sunday Times claimed just before 2 December 2010, Mr Hayatou received (60) World Cup match tickets from Mr Bin Hammam,’ reads the statement. ‘As Chairman of the Organising Committee of the 2010 World Cup and vice-president of FIFA, does Mr Hayatou need anybody to offer him match tickets for the World Cup as gifts? Is he not justified and entitled in his positions to receive match tickets?’

As well as replying to the Sunday Times’ allegations, a further statement from CAF President Issa Hayatou reveals that the CAF is considering legal action against the Sunday Times. ‘The CAF president reserves the right to sue and ensure that perpetrators of these fallacious rants are held responsible for their actions,’ it reads. 

If the allegations are proved true, the maximum number of votes Bin Hammam could have secured for his $3 million would have been four. That still leaves 20 members of FIFA’s Executive Committee that would need to be convinced of the merits of Qatar’s bid (two were suspended late on in the process). As the voting process is secret, we are yet to find out who else voted for Qatar and why. 

FIFA has been coming under increasing pressure over its decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar. Having previously threatened a boycott, player organisation FIFPro has lent its support for a winter World Cup in 2022, due to summer temperatures that can top 50 degrees centigrade. On the other hand, the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) has stated that ‘all scenarios on the re-scheduling  of the World Cup in Qatar are damaging the domestic competitions and Leagues’ business interests.’

Pressure is also building for action on the conditions suffered by migrant workers, almost 1,000 of whom have died building the facilities for Qatar 2022. The International Trade Unions Congress has demanded that FIFA take action over their treatment. UK Politician Jim Murphy has done much to expose the kafala system that ties workers to their employers, who can prevent migrant workers from leaving the country.

It appears that FIFA is caught between a rock and a hard place. If it goes ahead with the tournament as planned, it faces a potential player strike or potential heatstroke deaths. If it reschedules the tournament, it faces potential action from European football leagues due to revenues lost. In either case, it faces a potential political backlash over worker conditions, which could involve sponsors, TV companies and supporters boycotting the tournament.

The leaked emails and documents come just before Michael Garcia, the US lawyer heading the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA-funded Independent Ethics Committee, is due to report his findings concerning the initial allegations of corruption in relation to the 2022 bidding process, on 9 June. The report and its findings, to be published six weeks later, will not consider the Sunday Times’s allegations. The leaked emails also come just before FIFA’s Executive Committee meeting on 7-8 June, where the 2022 World Cup is on the agenda. Both these events precede the FIFA Congress, on 10-11 June in Sao Paulo.

Any FIFA decision to re-run the election of the 2022 hosts would make all of these issues disappear, without delving into the difficult question of who, exactly, voted for Qatar and why. The Sunday Times’s initial article refers to payments made by a person already banned by FIFA, to smaller national associations not actually involved in the 2022 voting process. It would appear that the leak, upon which the Sunday Times’s allegations are based, has come about at a convenient time and in a convenient way for FIFA to take action.

Andy Brown


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