The Cesspit of Corruption: How Qatar Bought a World Cup
In January 2015, The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe published a report by Michael Connarty titled, ‘The Reform of Football Governance’. This report sought to both examine and expose the alleged corruption which led to Qatar’s successful bid in December 2010 to host the 2022 World Cup.
That success caused consternation amongst the wider footballing world; a country without any footballing heritage – and one that required the tournament to be played in searing heat (subsequently moved to winter, the first World Cup of its type) – was to host football’s most famous competition (Ng, 2018).
A decision that was described by Conn (2017a) as a ‘shock and far-reaching vote’ (p.23), and one that was met with incredulity and ‘disbelief’ according to Blake and Calvert (2015a, p.15). Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert (as above) prompted the aforementioned report by publishing their 2014 exposé of Qatar and FIFA in The Sunday Times.
This groundbreaking piece of journalism made numerous allegations surrounding the country’s bid; the evidence documented in the exposé was described as a ‘smoking gun’ by Alexandra Wrage, a former member of FIFA’s independent governance committee (Calvert and Blake, 2014a, p.1-2).
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Whilst the report and the exposé created a solid basis to work from, this essay also explores what took place prior to Qatar’s World Cup bid, as well as the key points from after Sepp Blatter announced the country as World Cup hosts. This article will also examine Qatar’s incentives to host the tournament, which will cost an estimated $200bn, and help to display why they were so determined to win the World Cup (Guardian, 2017).
Pre-World Cup Bid
Suspicions towards Qatar’s now-infamous World Cup bid began in 2008, when Sepp Blatter first announced that the country planned to bid for the 2022 World Cup. Whilst the campaign was officially led by Qatari lawyer Hassan Al Thawadi, the man who became the driving force was Mohammed bin Hammam, who was the President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) between 2002 and 2011.
Bin Hammam was described as someone who had an ‘extremely important role’ and was a ‘key influence’ in securing the World Cup for Qatar, despite not having an ‘official role’ in the bid (Wilson, 2011a, p.16; Conn, 2017b, p.119).
Days after Blatter’s speech, bin Hammam invited 25 leaders from African Football Associations to a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur for an ‘all-expense-paid junket’ (Blake and Calvert 2015b, p.87). It was crucial that Qatar gained the support of Africa in their bid, and to do so, bin Hammam split $200,000 from the AFC account across his 25 guests as ‘spending money’ for their stay, with several officials requesting further money after their trip (Blake and Calvert 2015c, p.87).
As well as this, bin Hammam provided luxurious travel and extravagant gifts for those who visited him. This level of generosity from bin Hammam to his African counterparts had been seen before, as he bestowed similar gifts on the continent’s hierarchy during the 1998 and 2002 FIFA presidential election to aid Sepp Blatter’s bid.
A second trip was later organised for the African officials and their families in October 2008; this time he split $130,000 between the 40 guests upon their arrival in Kuala Lumpur (Blake and Calvert 2015d).
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Whilst bin Hammam did not hold an official role during the bidding process, FIFA’s rules of conduct disallow any ‘monetary gifts or any kind of personal advantage that could give… the impression of exerting influence’ (FIFA, 2009, p.2); essentially, these sweeteners in Kuala Lumpur broke the FIFA rules of conduct.
The inducements deployed by bin Hammam are considered as some of the earliest steps Qatar took in securing the bid for 2022, but perhaps the biggest step prior to the bid was taken in November of 2010 – nine days prior to the vote in Zurich.
UEFA’s then President, Michel Platini, visited the Élysée Palace in Paris for a lunch with French President, Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Here, Sarkozy made it very apparent that he wanted Platini to vote for Qatar, whilst simultaneously attempting to convince the Qataris to purchase French football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) – the club Sarkozy supports.
Whilst Platini denies that Sarkozy requested that he vote for Qatar, he did admit that he knew ‘what the President of France wanted’ (Conn 2017c, p.120). Despite later admitting that it was possible he had originally pledged his allegiance to the USA’s bid, Platini voted for Qatar on December 2nd (Guardian, 2015).
After the vote, Qatar Sports Investment purchased PSG, with the club now ranked as the 7th wealthiest in the world, as well as making several other investments in France (Forbes, 2022). BeIN Sports (a strand of Al Jazeera) purchased the television rights for France’s Ligue Une, paying €607m a year between 2012 and 2016, later increasing that amount to €726m a year between 2016 and 2020.
Qatar Airways, the Gulf state’s major airliner, conducted a deal with the French, purchasing fifty A320 planes from the country’s Airbus base in Toulouse. This one deal secured the French economy around $18.75bn (Conn 2017d).
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The Élysée Palace lunch, the meeting that led to this huge economic benefit for the country and the World Cup’s destination, would later be acknowledged as the beginning of the end for Platini at FIFA (Ahmed and Keohane, 2019).
Platini was later banned from football (along with then FIFA president Sepp Blatter) for eight years in 2015 for a series of breaches (including a conflict of interests), before being detained in 2019 over suspicions of private corruption in relation to the lunch (Gibson, 2015; Conn, 2019).
After the vote in December of 2010, whispers of corruption against FIFA and Qatar began almost immediately. In early 2011, Qatar’s former media officer of the bid committee, Ms Phaedra, claimed Qatari representatives had offered bribes to three African football officials in return for their support.
The allegation is referenced in point 124 by Connarty (2015a), with Phaedra stating that she was present during a Confederation of African Football congress meeting in January 2010 in which a ‘Qatar dignitary had offered financial incentives’ (p. 17).
These incentives were said to be in the shape of $1.5 million bribes in return for the support of the officials (Connarty, 2015b). Whilst Phaedra did eventually retract her statements in July of 2011, allegations of bribery towards African officials have been rife throughout the bidding process (Bond, 2011).
As evidenced in May 2011, with The Guardian stating that Qatar’s successful bid was ‘propelled by millions of dollars in bribes’ (Scott, 2011), undercover reporters held discussions with FIFA representatives to discover that the Qataris had paid around $1-1.2m to African committee members in return for their World Cup votes (Brannagan and Giulianotti, 2014).
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Later that month, Mohammed bin Hammam was initially accused, and later banned, in July 2011 from all FIFA and football-related activities for life after being found guilty of bribery by the FIFA Ethics Committee (FEC).
Bin Hammam was challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency before he was accused by FEC of sending 25 members of the Caribbean Football Union $40,000 each in return for their votes supporting his own presidential campaign (Wilson, 2011b; The Guardian, 2014a).
The bribes in question were distributed by Jack Warner, who had been a FIFA executive committee member since 1983 and was at the time a FIFA vice president before he too was banned from football in 2015.
Warner was at one point described as ‘the biggest gangster you will find on Earth’ (Conn 2017e, p.115) by FIFA’s former general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, and would go on to play a huge role in the exposure of Qatar’s corruption.
Later in 2011, after bin Hammam had been suspended from FIFA, and Warner had resigned in the face of the bribery allegations, the latter claimed he would unleash a ‘tsunami’ of corruption allegations towards Qatar and their attempts to buy the World Cup.
Whilst Warner’s tsunami failed to materialise, he did leak an email from FIFA’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke, in which he claimed that Qatar had ‘bought the World Cup’ (The Guardian, 2014b). Valcke was eventually suspended in 2015 and banned from all football-related activity for ten years in 2016.
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He was taken to trial in 2020, where he received a fine and suspended sentence, before trials continued in 2022, along with PSG President Nasser Al-Khelaifi, over allegations of the sale of media rights for World Cup tournaments (including Qatar) to preferred nations in return for cash payments (BBC Sport, 2018; BBC Sport, 2020, ESPN, 2022).
The Sunday Times 2014 Exposé
In June 2014, The Sunday Times published an exposé by investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake titled, ‘Plot to buy the World Cup’ (Calvert and Blake, 2014b).
In this exposé, Calvert and Blake claimed they would reveal payments designed to aid Qatar in their bid to buy the World Cup, made by the aforementioned Mohamed bin Hammam, who used ‘secret slush funds’ (p.1) in order to facilitate numerous payments of more than $5m to footballing officials around the world with the aim of securing their vote for Qatar 2022 (Calvert and Blake, 2014c).
From records held on bin Hammam’s computer, it seems that $5m was split into ten slush funds and dozens of hard cash payments of up to $200,000 were remitted to the accounts of 30 presidents of different African Football Associations between October 2008 and December 2010.
There is evidence to suggest still more payments were made after Qatar’s successful bid (Calvert and Blake, 2014d). Bin Hammam had been known to use inducements of this nature prior to the 2010 vote by using sundry funds of the AFC to pump money into Doha from his own company, ‘Kemco’ (Blake and Calvert, 2015e).
The African hierarchy recalled bin Hammam’s previous generosity from 1998 and 2002 which resulted in them coming back for more as he built a foundation for Qatar’s World Cup success, receiving support from the Namibian, Ivorian and Botswana FAs via emails.
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John Muinjo, who was president of the Namibia FA, stated in an email that the country would provide ‘unequivocal support at all times’ towards Qatar, but he would want to be supported with a payment totalling $50,000 to build football pitches in Namibia (Calvert and Blake, 2014e, p.143).
It was apparent to bin Hammam that to attain power in football, it had to be purchased, and he now had a system in place to sweeten a deal with anybody in football, from whom he needed a favour, by using the AFC funds to wire money to various beneficiaries (Blake and Calvert 2015f).
As well as the bribes to secure votes for Qatar, bin Hammam used his financial power to block a vote that otherwise would have certainly gone to Australia.
Two days prior to the vote in Zurich, Reynald Temarii – an Oceania Exco Member who was at the time suspended after a separate Sunday Times investigation found that he had been offered $12m for his vote – announced he would step down from his role rather than appeal his suspension.
Temarii’s successor was expected to vote for Australia at the 2022 bid, but bin Hammam intervened, and on that same day Temarii announced he would appeal his ban thus meaning he could not be replaced as Oceania’s Exco Member and voter.
Whilst this didn’t add to Qatar’s vote total, it did detract from Australia’s. Then, over the coming months, bin Hammam sent two payments totalling $305,000 to Temarii to pay for the legal costs of the appeal.
The subsequent votes from African hierarchies, as well as bin Hammam’s involvement in Temarii’s legal case, were crucial in securing Qatar the right to host the World Cup as they pushed the nation ahead of fellow Asian states such as Australia and Japan in the running (Calvert and Blake, 2014f).
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Records from the exposé show that Jack Warner was also involved in Qatar’s World Cup bid, as well as the aforementioned presidential campaign by bin Hammam, by the use of bribes between 2008 to 2011.
Warner was sent $250,000 in 2008 and $200,000 in 2010 from bin Hammam prior to the 2022 vote, and it is believed Warner used one of his three ballot papers to support Qatar; however, as this was a secret ballot, it is unproven.
Several months after Qatar’s victory, and after both Warner and bin Hammam were initially suspended by FIFA, Warner and his two sons, Daryll and Daryan, were sent a total of $1.2m between them from bin Hammam’s company, Kemco, for work Warner did between 2005 and 2010 (Calvert and Blake, 2014g; Tomlinson, 2014).
These payments are crucial in the investigation into the corruption surrounding Qatar’s bid as they are believed to be the first payments from Qatari representatives into an account held by a member of FIFA and to display how flawed the voting process was.
Hosting a World Cup can be incredibly lucrative for a host nation due to the large number of tourists that visit. Estimates from Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 suggest that both countries received around $3bn into their respective economies from tourism alone, whilst rough estimates based on the number of tourists and an average benefit to the nation per visitor during South Africa 2010, suggested an economic impact of around $2.7bn (Heitner, 2014; The Moscow Times, 2014; Peters, Matheson and Szymanski, 2014).
This means that hosting a World Cup could help the sustainability of Qatar’s riches and their title as the wealthiest country in the world, as the nation is an ‘oil/gas rich’ state – meaning their main source of wealth is finite (Suneson, 2019). Whilst there is still an estimated 200 years of resources left in the country’s gas fields, this will eventually run out and Qatar needs to plan for the future (HD Documentaries, 2019).
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When taking into account the numbers of tourists that enter the country annually, records show that tourism to Qatar has been in continuous decline since 2016, partly due to an embargo placed on the state by neighbouring countries due to allegations that Qatar supports terrorism (Segie and Odeh, 2018; Smith, 2019).
In 2018, 1.89 million international visitors entered the country, 19% fewer than 2017, but hosting a World Cup would naturally bring people from around the world and could help expand Qatar’s global reach, leading to an increase in the number of tourists after 2022 (Visit Qatar, 2018).
Whilst the immediate financial gain is obvious, the long-term economic impact can be seen as a defining factor as to why the desert state has gone to the lengths they have to secure the World Cup. Hosting the World Cup could also have a positive impact on Qatar socially through the use of ‘sportwashing’, a term used to describe when a nation places itself on the global stage via hosting a world famous event (e.g. World Cup, Olympics) in a bid to improve the country’s reputation.
Hosting such events can also be seen as a form of ‘soft power’, utilising the control of attraction through cultural influence rather than economic force (Jimenez-Martinez and Skey, 2018). Sportwashing appears to be on the rise in the middle-east, with several states using sport in an attempt to distract from their poor human rights records and to attract investment, tourism and positive media.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia hosted boxing matches featuring Amir Khan and the world heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Junior. This latter event was described as “pure sportwashing” by Amnesty International’s head of campaigns Felix Jenkins, who also stated that Saudi were using sport to overlook its ‘abysmal human rights record’ (Ingle, 2019).
As well as this, Dubai, Qatar and Azerbaijan have all held an interest in becoming the first middle-eastern country to host an Olympic Games, with Azerbaijan actually hosting the 2019 Europa League final (Salem, 2011; Rutherford, 2014).
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Attracting this level of global attention to the Gulf state could perhaps have a negative impact, however, as soft power could easily lead to ‘soft disempowerment’, which is what soft power can become if it fails (Brannagan and Giulianotti, 2018).
Moreover, pulling in high tourism numbers – along with a large media presence and the inevitable scrutiny that comes with that – could result in negative press towards Qatar due, for example, to their exploitation of migrant workers.
As pointed out by Connarty (2015c) in point 124, over one million migrant workers are building the World Cup project, with some earning less than £5 per day as Qatar have routinely abused the ‘Kafala’ system which is used to control the migrant population (Tifo Football, 2018).
The country also has controversial policies on same-sex relationships and women’s rights (Amnesty International, 2019; Human Rights Report, 2019). Whilst the World Cup could benefit Qatar in many ways, there is also a risk that placing the country on the global stage could expose the many problems that lie within.
There is clear evidence to suggest that the original process of the 2022 World Cup bid was radically flawed due to bribery and corruption. This evidence largely centres around the pre-bid ‘sweeteners’ from Mohammad bin Hammam to African football officials in Kuala Lumpur, the collusion between Michel Platini and Nicolas Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace and the millions of dollars in bribes sent from bin Hammam to secure votes for the 2022 bid.
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As well as this – through the use of sportwashing and Qatar’s continuous tourism decline – it has been found that the country has many incentives to host the World Cup which help to explain why they were so determined and ruthless in their pursuit of a successful bid.
The many Machiavellian tactics deployed by the Qatari’s, illustrated throughout this essay, demonstrate this ruthlessness, as bin Hammam and his cohorts did all possible to ensure the destination of the World Cup.
Not only did they purchase their own votes, they prevented Australia from securing a surefire vote by funding Reynald Temarii’s appeal, Qatar invested in France in order to receive the support of UEFA’s then President, whilst bin Hammam lurked in the shadow of the bid, allowing him to pull all of the strings.
As a result of the bid, 14 of the 22 FIFA ExCo members have been banned from football, or discredited, as well as the aforementioned bans for Michel Platini, Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, Mohammad bin Hammam and Jerome Valcke (Ronay, 2020).
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In April of 2020, The United States Department of Justice said in an indictment that three footballing officials received payments to vote for Qatar, signalling the first time the corruption process has been fully described.
Despite those revelations however, the chance of the World Cup moving away from Qatar at that time was highly unlikely – and so it has proved (Panja and Draper, 2020; Conn, 2020).
With so many ‘high profile players’ involved, and a monumental shift in the order of FIFA’s committee members since, there can be little doubt that Qatar have used their financial muscle to effectively buy the World Cup and that the original bidding process was radically flawed.
By: Breaking The Lines editorial team
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / AFP