FIFA plan to take the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. You know the story – developing nation seeks help so is given football tournament that generates billions for both the hosts and FIFA themselves and, as is the case with Qatar, social and political changes will be forthwith.
According to Hassan al-Thawadi in David Conn’s excellent interview with the executive of Qatar’s bid, the Qatar bid team plan to spend $4-5 billion on stadiums, nine of which will be built with three more remodelled. By 2030, $150 billion will be spent on transport and other infrastructure.
As al-Thawadi himself says, “so much good can come out of this World Cup” and, yes, an awful lot of good could come from hosting football’s premier tournament in Qatar. But what if it doesn’t help? What if football fans go to Qatar in 2022 and are victims of discrimination, be it because they are homosexual or even female? How will FIFA justify that? It hopefully won’t happen, but the risk is there and, right now, there’s no evidence to suggest that that risk is going to disappear any time soon.
Al-Thawadi hopes that the process of improving human rights – amongst other things in their “nation-building” exercise – will be “accelerated” by the World Cup coming to town which, again, is fantastic – ifit happens. And that’s a monumental “if”.
The 32-year-old then makes a very fair comparison with the reaction towards Qatar’s bid and that of Russia, who will host the 2018 version of the competition. Like Qatar, Russia has it’s problems – although perhaps not on the same scale – as racism is particularly rife. Again, FIFA hope that bringing football to them, on their doorsteps, with plenty of black footballers playing in their stadiums, will change Russia, which it perhaps will. But, the same, simple question persists – what if it doesn’t? What if black players go to that World Cup and are victims of racial abuse?
The comparison, though, is fair, although somewhat deflective and not really an answer to the various questions being asked by football fans and journalists all over the world. Al-Thawadi cites that there may be an anti-Arab prejudice coming from critics of their bid. I don’t think there is (there could be) but, again, it’s avoiding the question, it’s playing the race card to get out of a tricky situation.
It’s similar to the argument of “you’re only bitter because you didn’t get the World Cup”; actually, no, the majority of English football fans would rather see two things happen before we host the World Cup (in no particular order): 1) win the damn thing, or at least actually put in some decent performances at a national tournament for once; and 2) see a full and proper investigation into allegations of corruption within FIFA.
An investigation that, dismayingly, just isn’t happening. Al-Thawadi makes various assertions that are all very heart-warming and perhaps believable on the surface, but they are all complete non-statements; they don’t actually mean anything:
“Even if we had wanted to do anything improper, which we did not, we could not risk it because if it ever came out, the reputation of our whole country would be in tatters, the absolute opposite to what we are trying to achieve.” This is the equivalent of saying ‘I couldn’t of taken that woman’s handbag because I have a reputation to uphold. Come on now, you must believe me?’ There’s nothing to back it up, just his word which really isn’t enough considering the context.
He goes on: “my country’s reputation and my bid’s reputation is being sullied, tarnished, because of these allegations”. “We have nothing to hide and we did nothing wrong.” Ok then, prove it.
“Why do I have to prove my innocence when there is not a shred of evidence? Why should we have an investigation if no other country has one?”
Sorry, what? There are serious allegations against your bid team and an organisation that you have worked with and you want to know why you should prove your innocence? That’s kind of the point of the law. You prove that you’re innocent or the law enforcers – whoever they may be – prove that you’re guilty, or innocent.
And do you know why there’s not a shred of evidence? Not because there isn’t any, not because it’s impossible to find any; it’s because no one wants to look – no one of any importance, anyway.
“And what are you going to investigate? My books, my phone records, where I went, who I talked to, dig into my private life and everybody else’s, and everybody who came into contact with Qatar? … Where does it stop?”
Well if, as you say, you have “nothing to hide”, what would be the problem of inspecting every tiny detail of the bid? And the investigation stops when people are happy that there is no corruption and nothing murky about the bid whatsoever.
“I say stop the witch hunt and embrace the fact that this is a positive opportunity for the world. Look at the positive elements of a World Cup in the Middle East, especially in current circumstances.” Give us a reason to stop. And what about the negative elements of a World Cup in the Middle East, especially in current circumstances?
“At the moment there is not a sliver of evidence we did anything wrong.” That’s because there hasn’t been a proper investigation into either the Qatar bid or the actions of FIFA. Without an investigation, you won’t find any evidence. Without any evidence, the people who are going to play major roles in football in the next few years will keep pedalling these political, non-statements and get away with it.
The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is fine; the phrase “innocent because no one’s looking for evidence and therefore you cannot be proven guilty” is not fine. Something needs to be done; unfortunately, the very people who are investigating this are the very people who should be investigated, such is the crazy world of FIFA.