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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Qatar 'black ops' campaign rules it unfit to host the World Cup

Doha should not be rewarded for bringing the game into disrepute

Hundreds of workers have died during the construction of stadiums for Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Reuters
Hundreds of workers have died during the construction of stadiums for Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Reuters

Even for those accustomed to Doha’s chicanery, the recent revelations casting light on the “black ops” bankrolled by Qatar to secure the 2022 Fifa World Cup are shocking.

Leaked emails demonstrate Qatar colluded with a New York-based public relations firm – previously hired by the Assad regime in Syria to generate glowing coverage – to poison bids by its principal competitors, the US and Australia.

Qatar’s suitability as a venue was always questionable. So rather than make a positive case for itself, it decided to put a negative spin on its rivals.

In doing so, Qatar stamped on the spirit of the game, whose beauty and grace the world witnessed in the recently concluded World Cup in Russia.

Even worse, it intervened in the internal affairs of sovereign nations to manipulate public opinion against their own governments.

In the US, for instance, the PR firm allegedly paid an academic to produce a paper denouncing the cost of hosting the World Cup.

A whistleblower told the UK's Sunday Times the company even conscripted a group of physical education teachers to send letters to members of the US Congress protesting the bid. And a document titled "strategy", boasting of the concerted propaganda campaign instigated by the PR firm, was allegedly sent to Ahmed Nimeh, a senior adviser to the Qatar bid.

Qatar, in other words, was purveying fake news to advance its own agenda.

Fifa’s rules call for the “highest standards of ethical behaviour” from bidders and explicitly forbid them from smearing other candidates. Qatar has shown complete contempt for those standards.

A black cloud has been hanging over its bid ever since allegations of corruption and kickbacks first emerged and have continued to do so, even after a Fifa investigation cleared it of wrongdoing. Further, the deaths of an estimated 300 workers on stadium construction sites, coupled with the lengths to which Doha has gone to conceal them, have already cast a dark shadow.

An uplifting World Cup in Russia had restored the faith of football fans in the beautiful game, which had become tarnished by wave after wave of corruption allegations besmirching Fifa's reputation. Those fans deserve better.

A Qatar World Cup in 2022 would not be a celebration of football but a bonfire of the laws and norms that govern it.

Doha should not be rewarded for bringing the game into disrepute. This is a moment to be seized, to show fans their optimism in the beauty and honesty of the game is not misplaced.

With the next tournament four years away, there is time to rectify the damage and choose another host.

England, the birthplace of football, is one of a number of countries which has stated it has the capability and infrastructure to host the competition instead of Qatar.

Lord Triesman, the former chairman of the English bid for the 2018 games, has said it would be perfectly reasonable for Fifa to reconsider its decision.

The ball is now in Fifa’s court. How it acts will determine the future of football.

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