Fifa council members call for evidence of Qatar 2022 World Cup corruption claims

Several members of Fifa’s ruling council have called on the football body’s ethics committee to demand the evidence behind allegations that the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid ran a secret campaign to sabotage their rivals for the tournament.

A report on Sunday exposed documents allegedly passed by a whistleblower who worked with the Qatar bid. It claimed that bid team used a PR agency and former CIA operatives to disseminate fake propaganda about its main competitors, the United States and Australia, in a flagrant breach of the rules set down for bidding countries by football’s world governing body.

Qatar beat rival bids from the the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan to win the right to host the competition eight years ago, and has faced questions over its shock win in the race to stage the even ever since.

The alleged smears against rival bidders reportedly involved recruiting prominent figures to criticise the bids in their own countries, thus giving the impression they lacked support at home.

The Telegraph contacted several members of Fifa’s ruling council for comment on the Sunday Times story. Several said the governing body or its quasi-independent ethics committee should ask to see evidence of the newspaper’s claims, amid calls in Westminster for an “independent investigation”.

The officials, none of whom wished to be identified, predicted that the latest allegations would not lead to Qatar being stripped of the World Cup, but it has placed renewed focus on the lengths the wealthy Gulf state went to in its efforts to secure the competition.

According to The Sunday Times, the smear campaign included paying a professor £6,900 to write a damning report on the economic cost of a US World Cup.

Journalists, bloggers and high-profile figures were recruited in each country to build-up concerns over their respective bids, the paper reported.

It also reported that grassroots protests were organised at rugby games in Australia opposing the country’s bid, while intelligence reports were compiled in key individuals involved in rival bids.

Fifa rules say that bidders 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”.

Qatar said it “rejected” all the claims made by the paper.

The alleged smear campaign appears to have been aimed exploiting a key Fifa criteria that bids to host the World Cup should have strong backing from the bidding team’s public back home.

The strategy was reportedly carried out by New York communications firm Brown Lloyd Jones (BLJ), which is now BLJ Worldwide, in addition to a team of former CIA agents used to help disseminate propaganda against Qatar’s rivals.

One of the leaked emails, seen by the Sunday Times, and sent to Qatar’s deputy bid leader Ali al-Thawadi, shows that the Gulf state was aware of a plot to spread “poison” against its chief rivals.

The leaked documents also revealed that a group of American PE teachers had been recruited to ask Congressmen to oppose a US World Cup on the grounds the money would be better spent on high school sports, the paper claimed.

Lord Triesman, former chairman of the Football Association and England bid chairman, urged Fifa to “look at the evidence thoroughly”, and said Qatar should not be allowed to “hold on to the World Cup” if they were shown to have broken Fifa rules.

He told the paper: “I think it would not be wrong for Fifa to reconsider England in those circumstances … We have the capabilities.”

Last month the whistleblower behind the leaked documents gave testimony to Damian Collins MP, chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee. Mr Collins told BBC Radio 5 Live that the allegations require a “proper independent investigation and Fifa should make sure that happens”.

He added: “If the Qataris have broken the rules, they should face some sanctions”.

Qatar was previously investigated by Fifa over allegations of corruption surrounding the World Cup bid, but was cleared in 2014 following a two year inquiry led by American lawyer Michael Garcia. He said that “for the most part the bidding process was fair and thorough,” despite certain “questionable conduct”.

It appears that the documents seen by the Sunday Times were unavailable during Fifa’s inquiry.

The Qatar bid team has previously been accused of corruption, but was cleared following a two-year inquiry by Fifa’s ethics committee.

The latest claims are likely to be seized upon in the Gulf, where relations have worsened between Qatar and Saudi Arabia since the winning bid.

In a statement, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said: “The Supreme Committee rejects each and every allegation put forward by the Sunday Times.

“We have been thoroughly investigated and have been forthcoming with all information related to our bid, including the official investigation led by US attorney Michael Garcia.

“We have strictly adhered to all Fifa’s rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process.”

BLJ Worldwide has been contacted for comment.

The Telegraph | July 29, 2018