Another month, another new revelation about a scandal involving the Qatar World Cup.
London’s Daily Telegraph reported last week that one of FIFA’s former vice presidents may have received $1.2 million from Qatari interests to sway the vote on the 2022 World Cup. FIFA claims that it will now investigate the latest allegation.
That the central figure in the latest scandal is the notorious Jack Warner should surprise no one. A Trinidadian, Warner’s entire career as a soccer executive has been marred by allegations of corruption. He resigned from FIFA in June 2011, but not before votes were cast in December 2010 for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Sepp Blatter, the Swiss technocrat who has run FIFA much like a corrupt third-world regime, is still desperately defending the indefensible – awarding those two World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively, over much cleaner and stronger bids.
With Russian troops staging a de facto occupation of Crimea in the immediate aftermath of the Sochi Olympics, Russia’s fitness to host the 2018 Cup has come under scrutiny. But that’s a story for another day.
There’s actually more urgency to the Qatar World Cup. Because it’s eight years away, there’s still ample time to move the event (elsewhere, not to the winter). And because there’s just so much wrong with it.
The vote was immediately decried after it was taken because it simply made no sense. Australia, Japan and South Korea all put in competitive bids, but were eliminated in early rounds of voting. Qatar then beat the United States by receiving 14 of the 22 votes in the final round.
Of course, FIFA refused to this day to reveal how each member of the executive committee voted. Blatter did concede that the Qatari delegation traded votes with the failed Spain/Portugal bid for 2018.
That was only the tip of the iceberg. The Guardian subsequently reported that Qatar was using semi-slave labor for the construction of stadia and other infrastructure. Qatar’s prohibition against homosexuality also came under fire, not to mention the fact that its regime refuses to recognize the state of Israel, whose team may qualify for the World Cup.
Blatter tried to stem the controversies by tabling any decision until next year – hoping to buy more time for the furor to die down and also pushing the event toward a fait accompli. He’s also trying to move the 2022 Cup to the winter because playing in the Qatari summer of 120 degree Fahrenheit would be quite inhospitable to players and spectators alike.
But Blatter nevertheless is facing a huge conundrum, because there’s something with more influence that he cannot blithely ignore – television money. By moving the World Cup to the winter, FIFA will have to give back millions in signed TV contracts.
Fox Television has made it clear that when it paid $425 million for the U.S. rights to broadcast the 2018 and ’22 Cups, that it expected the events to be held in the summer – “as they have been since the 1930s,” the network helpfully pointed out. Fox has a vital and much more costly contract (at $1.1 billion per season) with the NFL, which plays in the fall and winter – and there’s nothing that will interfere with NFL broadcasts.
FIFA likewise has to deal with other broadcasters that paid more than $2 billion to televise the events. And there are also sponsors and the associations that submitted failed bids for ’18 and ’22, which are all demanding refunds that FIFA has so far refused to give.
So, despite FIFA’s insistence that the 2022 World Cup will not be moved out of Qatar, it may not have a choice as more revelations come to light and more money is at risk of sliding out of its coffers. As American lawyer Michael Garcia continues to probe for evidence of corruption in the World Cup votes, it is widely expected that more scandals will be uncovered.
Earlier this week, the International Trade Union Confederation released a damning report that estimates more than 4,000 migrant workers could die as a result of inhumane working conditions at the stadium and infrastructure projects. The report begins “Qatar is a country without a conscience” and it only gets grimmer from there.
At the end, it may require political will from Western nations concerned with human rights and transparency of process. If the major European football powers all declare their intention to boycott the 2022 World Cup, the event will be moved. It must be.