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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

UK sports leaders call for Qatar to lose 2022 World Cup 

Sepp Blatter, the former Fifa boss, claims former French leader Sarkozy swung votes for Qatar 

Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, announcing Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup, above in 2010, suggested that French economic interests meant it ordered a vote for Qatar. AFP
Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, announcing Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup, above in 2010, suggested that French economic interests meant it ordered a vote for Qatar. AFP

Pressure is building on Fifa to strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup and potentially hand it over to England.

Claims that Qatar sought to sabotage rival bids came as the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter on Monday heaped pressure on the organisation with a call for it to re-examine the role played by the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in swinging the selection process in Qatar’s favour.

The Football Association was forced to respond to the growing chorus of speculation from within the sportl and in the media. A spokesman said it would not comment on the hypothetical role that England would play if the host nation for the 2022 World Cup was changed.

Lord Triesman, the leader of England’s 2018 World Cup bid, led calls for Fifa to consider taking the tournament away from Qatar.

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“If Qatar is shown to have broken the Fifa rules, then they can't hold on to the World Cup. I think it would not be wrong for Fifa to reconsider England in those circumstances. We have the capabilities,” he said.

“Fifa's obligation is to look at the evidence thoroughly and rapidly and have the courage to take what may be a difficult decision.”

Allegations that Qatar paid a PR firm and ex-CIA operatives to spread propaganda about rival bidders have ignited concern over how the tournament was awarded.

Former FA chief executive, Mark Palios, said that even if Qatar were not stripped of the World Cup, they could still be banned from international football post-2022.

A PR executive at the centre of the controversy over Qatar's campaign to discredit rival World Cup bids, formerly worked for Asma Al Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, above right, with her husband. AFP
A PR executive at the centre of the controversy over Qatar's campaign to discredit rival World Cup bids, formerly worked for Asma Al Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, above right, with her husband. AFP

The FA’s former chairman, David Bernstein, said the British government had already spoken to the whistleblower who leaked the Qatari interventions. “This was always a strange affair. This was always regarded as very odd, probably the oddest event of its sort in the history of football, the history of sport," Mr Bernstein told Sky News.

He said Damian Collins, chair of parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, was taking it “very seriously”.

"I think these are serious matters and there needs to be a proper independent investigation of them," Mr Collins said. After years of corruption claims and plummeting public confidence, this is an "opportunity to demonstrate that Fifa takes these issues much more seriously than it has done”.

Amid the furore surrounding the allegation that Qatar had spread “poison” to weaken rival hosts, Mr Blatter, accused of corruption and financial mismanagement before his resignation, stepped in.

“Bad news: Qatar accused of denigration of other bidders. Fact is Qatar won after a political intervention by the former French President Sarkozy to Fifa Vice President Platini,” he said.

In the book My Truth published in May, Mr Blatter claimed that the then-French president told European football chief Michel Platini to vote for Qatar in 2010 as stakeholders curried favour to sway votes. It followed a private French lunch with the Qatari emir. “[Platini] phoned me immediately … he could not say no to President Sarkozy considering the interests of France.

“I do not know and I do not want to know if there is a connection between the Qatar World Cup and what happened next. Namely the sale by France of military and civilian aircraft in Qatar for $14.6 billion. Six months later, the purchase of [Paris Saint-Germain] by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011 for 76 million euros.”

Qatar has since ploughed vast sums to propel PSG to the summits of French football.

The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha is a 2022 World Cup venue. Reuters 
The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha is a 2022 World Cup venue. Reuters 

It was under Mr Blatter’s leadership that Fifa’s corruption emerged and Mr Bernstein, the former FA chief, said the Qatar ordeal would be an “acid test”.

“The key issue now is what will Fifa do. The Fifa of five years ago is meant to be very different from the reformed Fifa we have now. Now is the moment of truth to see if this new Fifa with a new governing board will react any different to allegations that have happened previously,” he said.

However, Mr Palios, the former FA chief executive, played down claims that Qatar could be stripped of the World Cup, and cautioned that the country could sue Fifa if action was taken against it.

“I think Fifa are broadly out of time, practically, to do anything in terms of taking away the 2022 World Cup. I’d be very surprised if they did this,” said Mr Palios.

“There is a series of steps that need to be taken [by Fifa]. The first thing, and the key thing, is get an early initial view on the provenance of the information - you know, the source of the information, is it valid, etc.”

Queries would be raised as to why investigations into impropriety by Qatar in 2012, known as the Garcia Report, did not throw up the allegations made over the weekend he said.

“They have to face the question, almost certainly, of legal action from Qatar and put that in the balance. They have to put a contingency plan together. When you pull all this together I suspect it may not mean they will take the World Cup away from Qatar but what they certainly would have to do is look at sanctions. This could include banning Qatar from football post-2022,” Mr Palios told the BBC.

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