Dubai: Reports that Qatar secretly funded a smear campaign against other nations bidding for the 2022 World Cup has thrown the state’s right to host the Fifa headline event in jeopardy.
No country has ever been stripped of a World Cup by Fifa after winning the bid to host the competition, although Fifa rules say bidders for the World Cup must “refrain from making any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association which has expressed an interest in hosting and staging the competitions”.
The Sunday Times reported on Sunday that Qatar used a PR agency and former CIA operatives to put out fake propaganda about its main competitors, the US and Australia, in the latest damning indictment of the Gulf state’s controversial bid to host the global event.
Qatar’s World Cup bid came under investigation earlier over accusations of massive corruption, which were cleared following a two-year investigation by Fifa. While concluding that the bidding process was fair, the investigation by US attorney Michael Garcia nevertheless retained doubts about certain “questionable conduct” observed during the bidding process. Reacting to the Sunday Times report, which the Qataris have rejected, Fifa pointed journalists back to that inquiry and said in a statement: “A thorough investigation was conducted by Michael Garcia and his conclusions are available in the report.”
However, if Garcia was unaware of these latest allegations during his investigation, Fifa could be forced to act. Football’s governing body needs to portray a clean image after their 2015 corruption scandal, and a key part of Gianni Infantino’s manifesto after taking over from Sepp Blatter as president in 2016 was to rid Fifa of all malpractice.
Reacting to the Sunday Times report, senior British Member of Parliament and head of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee Damian Collins said that there had been a “big loss of confidence” in Fifa as a result of corruption allegations. The latest claims represent an “opportunity to demonstrate that Fifa takes these issues much more seriously than it has done,” he told Sky News.
While Fifa might not strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup entirely, if it is found that Garcia was unaware of this new information, Infantino could still enforce changes. With Infantino keen to increase the number of participating teams up to 48 from the current 32 in 2022, the competition could be spread across neighbouring Gulf countries — thereby stripping Qatar of the right to host the entire World Cup on its own and demonstrating a commitment to ridding the sport of corruption.