How Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA world Cup?
In 2015, bribery scandal and corruption at FIFA made to the headlines. Since 2010, operations at FIFA and World Cup bidding were already under scrutiny.
FIFA became synonymous with vote rigging, bribery, corruption when Qatar bagged 2022 World Cup hosting rights. Qatar won the bid against the USA, Australia, Japan, South Korea.
A small nation ill-equipped without proper infrastructure bagged the rights. Where temperature does not favour playing condition – Qatar had to be rebuilt. How did Qatar win the bid?
Let’s understand the politics and corruption behind one of the world’s biggest sporting events. Firstly, a brief history of Qatar:
In 1971, Qatar adopted hereditary monarchy after gaining independence from the Brits. Qatar quickly emerged among richest building on top of its natural gas reserves. To get an idea of how rich average Qatari is – while world per capita GDP is $11,000, a Qatari makes $50,000. Population of Qatar is 30 lakhs only, of which local Qataris make 15%, and mostly 85% are migrants.
Then, why was Qatar so desperate to host the FIFA world cup?
Qatar wanted to make a mark on the world level – world was moving away from oil and gas, so an alternate identity was to be carved. There is no better platform than a world cup. Also, Dictators turn to sporting events to sugar-coat and hide faults – like Russia in World Cup 2018, Argentina in World Cup 1978, and Germany in Olympic Games 1936.
What did Qatar do to win the bid? Well, Uncle Ben told that with great power comes great responsibility, but he forgot to tell that with great money comes great power, and with great power comes great corruption. Qatar used influence and money to win hosting rights. It is called as the biggest corruption scandal by many.
But, how does FIFA select the host? In simple terms, FIFA has 6 confederations with their own executive members. FIFA has 24 total executive members including the president of FIFA. They have voting rights and they choose the host nation. For 2022 host selection in 2010, 22 executive members voted (2 members were disqualified after caught compromising their vote in sting operation).
Before we continue further, the introduction of a few characters is significant – Hassan Al-Thawadi, a big campaign leader of Qatar and now managing 2022 world cup. Second is Mohammad Bin Hammam, president of Asian Football Confederation. Third, Phaedra Al Majid (aid of Qatari bid team and whistle-blower).
Nobody thought Qatar was a serious bidder in 2010 (America and Australia met all the requirements of a host nation). Al-Thawadi thought of a way to change this. Mohd. Bin Hammam, the then president of AFC knew all the 24 executive voters personally. Hammam guided Thawadi in the bid process. Thawadi approaches Confederation of African Football (CAF) executives.
CAF members declined the proposal at first, but accepted to vote for Qatar when the offer was raised. That is how simple it was, as revealed by Phaedra.
Later on dealings were made directly with governments – trade deals with eligible voter countries, for instance, oil deal with Thailand was disclosed. Qatar agreed to sell oil for cheap prices (days before voting). No wonder Thailand voted for Qatar!
On the other hand, Emir of Qatar visited Brazil and meets president Lula. News emerges that Qatar airways agreed to operate 3 daily flights in Brazil, and of Qatar investments in Brazil. (slow claps)
It’s obvious, confederation voted for Qatar – the biggest confederation is UEFA with the most executive members. Michel Platini of France was the president of UEFA. Then, news of Platini, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and son of Qatar Emir meeting was out (no big deal right?). And then, the results of voting were out, and it was revealed that Platini and UEFA members voted for Qatar, and road to deals for France cleared – deals with Airbus and Rafale.
Qatar bought ownership and investment in Paris Saint-Germain. beIN, Qatari media group bagged French football TV rights (at that time France was undergoing financial crisis). Another news that a voting member sold land to Qatar for 32 million euros (way above asking price). Qatar got 14 out of 22 votes using these methods. Can you understand the chronology now?
After all these revelations, 2 were disqualified and 16 executive members were either suspended, arrested or banned now.
FIFA president manages to stay away while strongly condemning the turn of events. In 2011, Hammam challenged Sepp Blatter’s president post, but was caught buying votes for FIFA presidency. Emir of Qatar intervenes and deals with Blatter that if he quietly supports Qatar’s bid then Hammam will withdraw from race. Fun fact – Blatter, the grand old man of FIFA, is now banned for 8 years in a different scandal.
This way, Qatar, with one stadium, won hosting rights to FIFA 2022 world cup, but how was it ready in 12 years to organize the event?
Qatar spent $229 billion dollars making this the most expensive world cup ever (more than the combined cost of last 8 world cups). To host the world cup in 2018, Russia spent approx. $12 billion, Brazil in 2014 world cup spent approx. $15 billion dollars. In the desi reference, expenditure by Qatar is more than the combined net worth of Ambani and Adani.
Where did Qatar spent all its money?
Qatar spent money on stadiums and infrastructure. When Qatar made the bidding in 2010, there was only one stadium available in the country.
Now, Qatar has seven fully air conditioned stadiums, new airport, roads and metro lines, and approx. hundred new hotels. But, it wasn’t easy to build these in such a short span of time. In fact, grass seeds for the field were imported from the USA. Qatar needed 30,000 labourers to finish the mega project in 12 years – foreign labourers hired from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines.
Plight of Migrant Workers
As we have seen during the pandemic that migrant workers were ignored by the system. Qatar did not even allow basic human rights to migrant labourers; it is said they were treated as slaves. Qatar’s Kafala system was responsible in which locals and companies sponsor foreign labourers (workers need permission from sponsors to transfer, terminate job contract or to leave/enter country).
Workers were exploited, like illegal recruitment fees, no timely wages, many injured and died while working. They lived at the mercy of employer. When this was exposed, Qatar abolished the Kafala system after criticism. But workers say this was done only on paper, their passports are still with the employers and they cannot leave without permission.
According to a 2021 report by the Guardian, 6,500 migrant workers lost lives in Qatar. Qatar said this was a misleading report, and workers died by natural causes. Whereas, International Labour Organisation (ILO) denied Qatar’s comment saying that Qatar does not count respiratory or heart failure in work related problem, and autopsy of bodies wasn’t done. As per ILO, 50 workers died and 500 severely injured in 2020.
A Conservative Country
Question is, football is a sport that unites everyone. Qatar is a conservative country where homosexuality is illegal. How can open, multi-cultural event be held in Qatar comfortably? Qatar said it will welcome all and nobody will be discriminated against, but laws on homosexuality won’t change and visitors should respect the culture, Qatar added.
Human Rights watch report has alleged abuse of LGBTQ Qataris (Qatar denied the allegation). Many footballers are of LGBTQ and expressed concerns; 8 teams will wear OneLove arm band.
Another issue in Qatar is related to women’s rights; according to human rights watch, male guardianship curtails women rights in Qatar. Women need permission from men to marry, study, work, travel, access reproductive healthcare. How will then Qatar handle euphoric, candid woman fans at the World Cup?
Third thing is, Qatar banned beer from world cup stadium (consuming beer at world cup is common and the move disappointed fans). Budweiser – FIFA 112-million-dollar deal was impacted by this change.
Anyway, Word Cup is ongoing in Qatar. At the start, another allegation was made, that Qatar bribed Ecuador players to lose opener (might as well buy the trophy!).
The bigger challenge for Qatar would be how to use its stadiums and other infrastructure after the sporting event is over. Brazil stadiums are used as bus depot after the 2014 world cup. Qatar wants to be known for sports and to bid for Olympics.
But seems difficult as of now after so many allegations. The world cup exposed human rights conditions. But, still, money can bend anyone (it can’t be ruled out).
[Images from different sources]
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