Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup has become even further embroiled in controversy, with a report from the UK’s Sunday Times claiming that the Qatari team bidding for the tournament ran a secret campaign to sabotage its competitors.
The Sunday Times claims to have been privy to documents leaked by a whistle-blower that shows that the Qatari bid employed both a United States PR firm and former CIA agents to engage in “black operations.”
These efforts were designed to sow discord about hosting the World Cup in the nations of its competitors in an effort to create the appearance that there was limited domestic support for the bid – a strong backing of the bid at home one of the factors that FIFA takes into account when awarding the tournament.
Tomorrow’s front page: Exposed: Qatar sabotaged World Cup rivals with ‘black ops’ pic.twitter.com/NHlvIZ3M52
— The Sunday Times (@thesundaytimes) July 28, 2018
Allegedly targeted primarily towards bid rivals the United States and Australia, any such action would have been in breach of FIFA’s rules, which state that World Cup bidders should 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.”
According to The Sunday Times, some of the actions undertaken by the campaign designed to smear Qatar’s bid competitors included:
- The recruitment of journalists, bloggers and other figures of influence in the United States and Australia to draw greater attention to the negative aspects of their bids.
- The organising of protests at Australian rugby games in opposition to the bid.
- An American academic being paid a $9,000 fee to pen a negative report on the economic impact of an American World Cup for distribution to worldwide media.
- The recruitment of American PE teachers to lobby the United States government to oppose hosting the World Cup on the grounds that any money spent on the event would be better served by going to high school athletics.
- The creation of dirt files on individuals associated with the rival bids.
Qatar’s bid had previously been accused of underhandedness in its pursuit of the 2022 World Cup but was cleared of any wrongdoing following a two-year investigation by FIFA, however, The Sunday Times reports that these documents revealing the alleged smear campaign were not seen by the investigators.
Approached for comment by The Sunday Times, both the Qatar bidding team and BLJ Worldwide – the PR firm The Sunday Times reported was hired as a part of the disinformation campaign – declined.
Australia’s bid for the 2022 tournament eventually failed to advance past the first round of the 2010 vote that allocated hosting rights, earning only a single vote compared to the 11 of Qatar, three of the United States, four of South Korea and three of Japan.
The Australian bid itself has since become mired in allegations of attempted corruption, poor planning and general incompetence.
In her book Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way, former bid member turned whistle-blower Bonita Mersiades wrote that not only was a not insignificant portion of the $46 million committed by the Australian government to the bid used for the hiring of consultants that did little to further Australias cause – and may have eventually damaged Australia’s international reputation – but also in an attempt to buy votes during the bidding process.
FIFA investigations conducted in the wake of the vote have found “significant evidence” to reinforce Mersiades claims.
Update – 30/07/2018
The Qatari organisers of the 2022 World Cup have been quick to deny the allegations printed in The Sunday Times.
The Qatari Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is overseeing Qatari efforts to prepare for the world’s largest sporting tournament, refuted the allegations in a statement; saying that it “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,” the statement continued
“We have strictly adhered to all FIFA’s rules and regulations for the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding process.”