On January 29, renowned magazine France Football (FF) published a 20-page report into the circumstances surrounding Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup finals after months of investigation by respected French journalists Eric Champel and Philippe Auclair.
Back in Dec 2010, Qatar had surprisingly beaten favourites the United States to host the world’s biggest sporting event, a decision that caused shock and bewilderment throughout Planet Football.
Not only were Qatar’s extreme climatic conditions thought to be hugely problematic to a successful hosting of the tournament, with summer temperatures topping 110 degrees, but there were also concerns about foreign supporters wanting to drink alcohol in the Muslim country and possible bans on homosexuals attending the competition.
And yet somehow the tiny Arab nation managed to overcome the US by 14 votes to eight in the final round of ballots at FIFA HQ three years ago. However, as we examine the allegations that France Football have made, there must now be serious concerns about the probity of the Qatari bid.
Corruption within FIFA
The Qataris allegedly paid $1.5 million each to buy the crucial votes of African confederation president Issa Hayatou (Cameroon) and Jacques Anouma, as well as two other African members on the FIFA executive committee.
This is not a new accusation, however, as British newspaper the Sunday Times reported it back in Nov 2012, backed up by a source who they said worked on the Qatar 2022 bid, Phaedra Al Majid, only for the whistle-blower to then mysteriously retract her claim, saying that she concocted the whole story.
FF goes on to allege that Qatar splashed out another $1.25m in order to "sponsor" the 2010 African confederation congress in order to give them exclusive access to the four African members on the FIFA executive committee.
However, one of the accused, Nigeria’s Amos Adamu, was suspended from his role on the executive committee by FIFA following the Sunday Times’ revelations, meaning he was not allowed to vote in the actual bidding process.
The Qataris have also been accused of attempting to "sponsor" a pre-World Cup 2010 gala dinner at the cost of £1m in order to curry favour with Adamu, whose son was the event’s organiser.
However, it was not just FIFA’s African members on the executive committee who the Qataris targeted according to claims made in FF, who allege that key and longstanding Argentinian FIFA vice-president Julio Grondona was also wooed by a Qatari representative with the promise of millions of dollars that would be used to help revive the ailing game back in his homeland.
From International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow:
Qatar is throwing billions of dollars around the world to curry political favour and put a shiny face on the ugly reality of its modern-slavery economy.
Meanwhile, FF alleges that another powerful South American figure on the FIFA executive committee whose votes would be crucial in deciding which country would host the tournament, Brazilian Football Confederation President Ricardo Teixeira, was targeted by the Qataris, who used Middle Eastern holding companies to bankroll deals made by the now-disgraced official.
In Europe, FF claims that the Spanish Football Federation President Angel Maria Villar Llona was prevented from going public with these allegations after a lucrative ‘friendly’ between Spain and Uruguay was organised by the Qataris in Doha in Feb 2013 to sweeten the Spaniard.
Villar Llona was reportedly angry after Russia comfortably won the right to host the 2018 World Cup, despite him organising a vote-swapping deal with Qatar in which his federation would back the Qataris, while they would in turn support the joint Spain-Portugal bid.
And finally, FF alleges that the Qatari sports agency Aspire spent millions of dollars on promoting youth sports in those countries who crucially had members on the FIFA Executive committee that would in turn vote to decide who would be hosing the 2022 World Cup.
Collusion with key French figures
FF alleges that then France President Nicolas Sarkozy put pressure on UEFA president and key FIFA vice-president Michel Platini to change his support from the US to Qatar for geo-political reasons, and in return the Qataris would both create a sports satellite TV channel and buy Paris Saint-Germain.
The magazine goes on to claim that in a meeting with Qatari crown prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani at the Elysee Palace on November 23 2010, Sarkozy and Platini discussed this possible investment in French football.
PSG is now owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, which also runs the beIN SPORTS TV network in France.
However, Platini has always steadfastly refuted these accusations, telling Agence France-Presse:
I made my choice with complete independence following a simple logic ... opening up countries who have never organised major sporting events ... With the same concern for transparency, it was me who revealed to the media that a few weeks before the vote I was invited to dinner by Nicolas Sarkozy.
Targeting of high-profile football figures
Lastly, FF alleges that Qatar spent millions of dollars on well-known football personalities to lavish praise on the country’s ability to host such a global event at key FIFA conventions, with the likes of former France national team captain and Real Madrid star Zinedine Zidane being paid a reported 11 million euros. There were also huge sums allegedly paid to the likes of ex-Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola and one-time France international Christian Karembeu to become "ambassadors" for the bid.
And, speaking to FF, former FIFA executive Guido Tognoni described world football’s governing body as “a little mafia."
“It’s hard to talk about buying votes (per se), but rather the arrangement of votes thanks to agreements and the exchanging of favours,” Tognoni told the FF investigation.
However, no one interviewed by the magazine believed that the decision to hand Qatar the 2022 World Cup would be reversed, despite these worrying and lengthy accusations.