No level playing field in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup rort
In hindsight maybe Australia’s tactics were all wrong. Instead of spending $46 million taxpayer dollars for the 2022 World Cup bid on marketing, advertising, sport-based aid projects in developing nations and flights and accommodation to persuade FIFA members of the merits of our bid, we should have just offered the money direct as bribes to the 24-member executive committee in return for their votes.
The worst kept secret of the lobbying campaign for the 2018-2022 World Cups is now becoming apparent – that the successful Qatar bid for the 2022 tournament was deeply suspect, and that nations such as Australia were always destined to look like joke candidates through their refusal to grease the right palms.
When Australia garnered a pathetic solitary vote for its 2022 bid, Football Federation of Australia chairman Frank Lowy effectively admitted that he had made the first mistake of politics – he believed the people who had told him they would vote for us, instead of just believing the people who said they wouldn’t vote for us.
I interviewed Mr Lowy a couple of times in South Africa last year about the progress of the Australian bid. At the time he rated our chances of success as more than 90 per cent, based as it was on our track record as hosts of the Sydney Olympics and Melbourne Commonwealth Games, and the fact that as an emerging soccer nation in the Asia-Pacific we could grow the sport more than other established bidding nations.
The hopes of the Australian bid appeared to strengthen when the FFA took a tactical decision in South Africa last year to withdraw its 2018 bid, paving the way for a European nation to host the tournament, and concentrate solely on 2022. That decision drew rare public commendation from FIFA, with executive committee member and German footballing legend Franz Beckenbauer lauding Australia for its decency in making way for the Europeans. The decision was one which Lowy had made with a heavy heart – by 2022, the soccer-mad Westfield founder will be 91 years old, and obviously knows he would have had a much better chance of seeing a 2018 World Cup in Australia than waiting another four years.
But over the past fortnight as FIFA has collapsed in scandal and farce, it’s become clear that Lowy and Australia were always destined to blow what relatively little dough had been invested in the bid.
Perversely, there was no real clamour within FIFA for the Qatar bid to succeed – the country is so hellishly hot that covered air-conditioned stadiums will be constructed so that players don’t drop dead in the heat. The entire country isn’t much bigger than the Sydney basin meaning that all the stadia will be built off one long boulevard, depriving the World Cup of one of its most attractive features, the chance to get a feel for the host nation as the various groups play in different host cities. You can’t get a drink there either.
Despite all these shortcomings the Qataris smashed all-comers. The rumour at the time was that as many as 14 members of FIFA’s all-powerful 24-strong executive committee were being offered direct payments by Qatar of up to US $10 million. In addition, Qatar was writing blank cheques for the world’s football federations for any projects they wanted, in the order of US $60-70 million. A reporter on one German newspaper wrote on Twitter last week that he had established a paper trail showing that four members accepted payments of US $5 million, but the full story has not yet eventuated.
Frank Lowy and FFA CEO Ben Buckley have said as much as they are going to say publicly about their concerns over the bid. Figures within Australian football say the chief problem surrounding the Qatari victory is proving any wrongdoing.
“They’re so smug because they know that the problem is establishing conclusively what went on,” one source says. “The whole thing was suspect from the start. Most of the executive committee members are 60 and 70 years plus and for the first time ever they decided on two World Cups on the same night. For a lot of these blokes it was the last vote they would ever take part in. It could have been one hell of a pay day if they did the right thing.”
With the suspension of his rival, Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam, amid corruption allegations, Sepp Blatter has now been re-elected unopposed for the FIFA presidency. On his return, Blatter managed to sound both sinister and slapdash at the same time, saying the corruption claims against soccer’s governing body were “minor” and would be resolved within “the FIFA family.”
Aside from the damage Blatter has sustained, FIFA has also been deprived of the one quality it used for so long to maintain its authority – fear. This authoritarian and secretive organisation has historically cowed its critics into silence. There were two moments at the World Cup in South Africa last year which as a non-soccer writer amazed me. The first was the decision by FIFA to arrest and jail a group of models from the Netherlands who arrived at a game wearing t-shirts for a Dutch beer company, violating sponsor Budweiser’s monopoly on marketing at matches. The second was the media’s compliance at the first press conference by the head referee to discuss officiating at the tournament. Journalists were told that they could not ask questions about individual referees, or individual decisions (such as Tim Cahill’s red card against Germany), and that if they did they would have their press passes revoked and their tickets cancelled.
It can only be a good thing that FIFA no longer commands this type of fear-driven compliance and is on for the caning it so richly deserves. Bring on the scrutiny. For Australia, there is now a small but exciting chance that the result could be a 2022 host nation being selected on merit.
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