Arab world braces for World Cup scandal fallout

Arab world braces for World Cup scandal fallout
Analysis: Bribes, resignations and a worldwide FBI dragnet. Now the Fifa corruption crisis threatens to bring more attention to Arab bids for the world's greatest tournament.
4 min read
03 June, 2015
Qatar's awarding of the 2022 World Cup has been hugely controversial [AFP]
Football is described as a funny old game, but this week the sport saw more twists and turns than usual.

The headlines of many newspapers have focused on Sepp Blatter's decision to step down as Fifa president just five days after re-election with US corruption investigators allegedly hot on his tail.

At the centre of the World Cup debacle is the Arab world. The decision to award Qatar the 2022 competition looks like Blatter's Waterloo moment.

The surprise decision to award football's biggest prize to a Gulf country with little history of the sport has opened up questions about Fifa voting practices.

Now US and Swiss investigators are looking into the awarding of the 2022 competition.

World Cup concerns

Human rights groups delved into the fray, attacking Doha's treatment of migrant workers who have been tasked with constructing the stadiums, hotels, and airports needed to host the tournament.

Washington Post infograph, based on numerous sources, alleged that 4,000 expatriate workers could die on Qatar's World Cup construction sites.

Amid the media backlash of this predicted toll, Scotland will host Qatar in a friendly on Friday. Human rights activists - and some fans - have demanded that the game is cancelled.

The Scottish FA responded by saying that it was "important to separate this sporting fixture from the serious human rights issues emanating from Qatar".

Meanwhile, Blatter and a number of Fifa chiefs are investigated on charges of corruption by US law enforcement officials according to The New York Times.

Allegations of corruption go back to when Morocco made a bid to be the first Arab nation to host the World Cup in the 1990s.

Chuck Blazer, the general secretary of Concacaf - the football association for North and Central America - alleged that Morocco attempted to bribe its former head Jack Warner in 1992 during its bid to host the 1998 World Cup.

Blazer is a key informer in the US attorney general's investigation into Fifa corruption. In a statement released by US prosecutors on Thursday, he admitted that he and other members of Fifa's executive were bribed in return for voting for South Africa's bid for the the 2010 World Cup.

In an earlier interview with Hespress, Blazer said Moroccan officials attempted to bribe Concacaf officials with $1 million when it ran for the same tournament.

Said Belkhayat, a member of the Morocco campaign, denied all charges of corruption in the same interview.

"I and others on the Fifa executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup," said Blazer in a recently released transcript of a US hearing in 2013.

Qatar's 2022 bid has also been dogged by allegations of corruption and Blatter's downfall has renewed calls for a review of whether it should host the tournament in seven years' time.

Offensive and counteroffensive

England's FA chairman, Gregg Dyke, has said an investigation into Fifa awarding the 2022 tournament to Qatar, and 2018 to Russia - which England were favourites to win - should take place.
     Allegations of corruption go back to when Morocco made a bid to be the first Arab nation to host the World Cup.

Sheikh Hamad Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, the Qatar FA's president, replied: "Mr Dyke's instinct to immediately focus on stripping Qatar of the World Cup speaks volumes on his views concerning what will be the first Fifa World Cup to take place in the Middle East."

He said that Qatar had already cooperted with Michael Garcia's investigation into allegations of corruption in the 2018 and 2022 bids - "and had been subsequently cleared of any wrong-doing".

"We welcome the office of the Swiss attorney general conducting its own work into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 world cups," the Qatari FA president added.

Garcia stepped down from his investigating role in December 2014, accusing Fifa officials of whitewashing his findings and saying their 42-page summary of his investigation was "erroneous".

Khaled al-Attiyeh, a former Qatari prime minister, said that calls for an investigation into his country's bid were "racist", according to al-Sharq newspaper.

Enter Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, a man who has promised to clean up Fifa's mess and is backed by most European football associations.

Some say that his announcement to investigate irregularities last Friday could have frightened some Fifa officials into voting against him.

With Blatter now saying he will step down, Ali is making a fresh bid to become president, although he also faces strong competition from another Arab in the final furlong of the race - Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

Ali might have been the Arab candidate for the Fifa presidency last week, but he didn't have the backing of all his neighbours. Palestine football chief Jibril Rajoub, who also holds Jordanian nationality, was rumoured to have voted for Blatter in Friday's election.

Rajoub denied it, but Palestinian president's visit to Ali's palace yesterday appeared to have confirmed the rumours, particularly after he commented that nothing would sour the bond between Jordan and Palestine "regardless of any behaviour".

But as we have seen this week, football can tear apart even the strongest families.