A key strategist for the UK’s governing Conservative Party offered to manufacture a campaign against Qatar’s hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup, media revealed on Sunday.
A pitch written by Sir Lynton Crosby’s strategy firm CTF Partners, which was viewed by The Guardian, gave a detailed plan to see Qatar lose the 2022 World Cup and give it to “another country” – a key demand of Doha’s arch-regional rivals, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The document, made in April, proposed “a campaign to expose the truth of the Qatar regime and bring about the termination of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar”.
Dubbed Project Ball, Crosby’s lobby group promised full-time war rooms across the globe and use journalists, politicians and academics to spread negative information about Doha.
It also offered to set up fake grassroots campaigns on social media against Doha, with the ultimate aim to pressure FIFA to reconsider Qatar as a host for the World Cup.
This is a similar tactic deployed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s electronic armies since the launch of their 2017 blockade on their Gulf neighbour over spurious charges that Doha sponsors terrorism.
“We would identify all potential ‘allies’ in the media, politics, industry, academia, and government and reach out to them guiding a deliberate attempt to inform and motivate them about the need to reconsider Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022,” the pitch reads.
It offered to deploy “all levers of influence” to put “pressure on FIFA to strip Qatar of its right to host the World Cup as for any other campaign that we have run”.
CTF Partners asked for £300,000 a month for 18 months to convince FIFA to “restart the bidding process” for the 2022 World Cup.
This was on top of an additional £100,000 a month to associate Qatar with terrorism in the minds of the general public, another link the Saudi-led quartet – which includes the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain – has tried to make.
Analysts have told The New Arab that snatching football’s biggest prize from Qatar has likely been an aim of the Saudi-led quartet’s blockade on Doha, due to the positive fanfare the World Cup brings to hosts.
“The UAE have also made very obvious attempts throughout the blockade to persuade FIFA to allow Saudi Arabia and the UAE to share hosting rights, thereby stripping Qatar of its exclusive right to the tournament and delivering a massive and humiliating blow,” Nick McGeehan, a human rights researcher, told The New Arab, in a previous article.
Project Ball was pitched to self-styled Qatari opposition figure Khalid al-Hail, who has organised a number of conferences against the ruling al-Thani family from his London home.
Although Hail insists his anti-Qatari government campaigns are independent and self-funded, analysts say they are closely aligned with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s foreign policy and propaganda.
Crosby’s lawyers told The Guardian that no contact with al-Hail was “ever entered into” and that the proposal was not taken up by either party.
“It is legitimate for one party to use the services of people/entities such as our clients to put important information into the public domain in an effective manner,” his lawyers told the British daily.
CFT Partners did confirm it provided Al-Hail with a “minimal amount of media advice” during a dismal propaganda campaign against the Qatari Emir Tamim al-Thani’s state visit to the UK last year.
This included hiring actors to stage a fake protest outside Downing Street during the emir’s visit.
Sir Lynton Crosby has been credited with helping the British Conservative Party’s successful election campaigns over the past decade, including the surprise 2015 win which saw the political strategist awarded with a knighthood.
He is also said to be closely linked to former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who has been touted as a future leader of the Tories.
Crosby’s company provided Johnson with a £20,000 loan recently, which was re-paid.
Qatar was blockaded by its Gulf neighbours in June 2017 after being accused of sponsoring terrorism and being too close to Iran – charges Doha strongly denies.
Analysts believe the action was taken due to Qatar’s independent foreign policy and sympathy for the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements.