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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Australian soccer boss says Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup is likely to be challenged


Challenging Qatar;s bid: Australia's Frank Lowy (Source: Theroar.com.au)


By James M. Dorsey

Australian soccer federation president Frank Lowy, speaking days after world soccer body FIFA head Sepp Blatter opened the door to an investigation of Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, believes that the Gulf state could be deprived of the right to host the tournament.

Speaking immediately after his re-election as Australia’s soccer czar, Mr. Lowy said that the "last word hasn't been heard yet'' on FIFA’s controversial vote last December in favour of the Qatari bid.

Mr. Lowy’s remarks followed statements by Mr. Blatter suggesting for the first time that FIFA could investigate the Qatari bid as well as demands for an investigation by the British parliament’s media and culture committee as well as German soccer federation boss Theo Zwanziger.

Australia, alongside the United States, South Korea and Japan was one of the bidders that lost out to Qatar.

Mr. Lowy declined in an interview with Australian Associated Press to explain on what grounds and with what procedure Qatar could be deprived of its right to host the World Cup, but said was it related to "the state of the FIFA executive committee.''

He went on to say that "I don't know whether you recall when I came back from that fateful day (after losing the bid) and I said 'this is not the last word about awarding the World Cup.’ Well, it wasn't the last word. Don't ask me to elaborate because I don't have a crystal ball ... but the media all over the world is talking about that, the awarding particularly of '22, the state of the FIFA executive committee - all that stuff. It's not over. I don't exactly know where it will bounce. The only thing I know is it's not over yet.''

In a series of interviews with media including Fox Soccer and Germany’s Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, Mr. Blatter said over the weekend that FIFA’s newly created Good Governance Committee would have the authority to review the bid process that resulted last December in the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. 

Qatar’s bid has been mired in controversy prompted by questions about its well-funded bid campaign as well as potential problems because of its searing summer temperature, sour grapes on the part of its competitors and allegations made by a disgruntled employee of its bid committee.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke asserted in an email leaked this summer that Qatar had "bought the World Cup.'' Allegations aired by the BBC that Qatar had bribed two members of the FIFA executive committee were deflated when a disgruntled Qatar bid committee employee came forward to say that she had fabricated evidence.

Nonetheless, the banning in July by FIFA of Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, on charges of bribery in his failed FIFA presidential campaign cast a further shadow over the Gulf state’s bid campaign. The banning of Mr. Bin Hammam, who denies all wrongdoing and is appealing the ban, is part of the worst corruption scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history.

Reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy engineered UEFA head Michel Platini’s vote in favour of the Qatar at a meeting in November of last year with Qatari Crown Prince Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani in which he also persuaded that Qatari to acquire financially trouble team Paris Saint-Germain have contributed to revived questions about the Gulf state’s hosting of the World Cup. Qatar had in 2006 walked away from a possible acquisition of the underachieving club that was haemorrhaging money and was renowned for its hooligan element.

An investigation of the Qatari bid constitutes a double-edged sword for FIFA. With allegations of corruption having so far failed to stick, the unexplored issue of Qatar’s legal investment in soccer facilities and other soccer-related activities in the home countries of members of the soccer body’s executive committee looms large, raising issues about loopholes in FIFA’s bid rules rather than about the conduct of the Gulf state’s bid campaign.

A Qatar confident of the integrity of its bid has much to win from an investigation that would finally put the controversy to bed. If indeed it contributes to a tightening of FIFA’s bid rules, an investigation could prove to be a win-win exercise for both Qatar, which would put it at the cradle of improved FIFA good governance, and Mr. Blatter who could claim this as part of his fight against corruption.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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