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 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.
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 Times states.
Bin Hammam resigned from all football-related activitiestwo 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 Times it denied all involvement or knowledge of such actions.
But according to the 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.”
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 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 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.”