x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

World Cup fever in Qatar unabated despite bid scandal

As they watch 2014 event kick off in Brazil, Qataris say hosting 2022 tournament will be a great success for country and region.

Football fans watch the opening match of World Cup 2014 between Croatia and the host country Brazil on June 12, 2014, in Doha, Qatar. Lauren Williams for The National
Football fans watch the opening match of World Cup 2014 between Croatia and the host country Brazil on June 12, 2014, in Doha, Qatar. Lauren Williams for The National

DOHA // Despite the controversy surrounding their own World Cup bid, Qataris watching the start of this year’s tournament in Brazil said they looked forward to hosting the event in 2022.

In Souq Waqif in Doha’s city centre, Qataris, mixing with Saudis, Emiratis, Indians, Kuwaitis and others watched Thursday’s opening match on huge screens in shisha cafes and restaurants, all fully booked for the event.

Others watched with friends from the comfort of their villas and majalis.

“Inshallah, it will be here,” said Amer, watching with friends in the souq.

“This is not just good for Qatar, it is good for all Arabs, for Asian countries, for all the region,” said Amer, who, like other Qataris spoken to, asked that his surname not be used.

Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 tournament has been the subject of a massive corruption scandal, after The Sunday Times of London claimed it had evidence that the country’s former Fifa executive, Mohamed bin Hammam, had paid millions of dollars in bribes and gifts to fellow executives and football associations globally to win their backing.

Qatar has denied any wrongdoing and hinted that a legal suit could ensue if it is stripped of the tournament.

“Qatar has won the bid on its merits and we are confident that at the end of the appropriate process, the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar will stand,” the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the country’s World Cup organising committee, said on Sunday in response to fresh revelations by The Times.

“We will take whatever steps are necessary to defend the integrity of Qatar’s bid and our lawyers are looking into this matter,” it said a previous statement after the first Times report on June 1.

It has also said Mr bin Hammam, who was banned for life by Fifa in 2012 for financial corruption “played no official or unofficial role in Qatar’s 2022 bid committee”.

Sepp Blatter, the president of football’s world governing body, has admitted it was a “mistake” to award “high-risk” Qatar the tournament but has defended his role in the scandal. Now, with the findings of an internal Fifa investigation into the scandal pending, and five of six of Fifa’s main sponsors issuing statements of concern about the bid, calls are mounting for Qatar to be stripped of the Cup.

A reporter with ESPN’s Spanish-language network sent observers into a spin on Friday when he tweeted on his official account that Fifa had told the US to be ready if Qatar loses the World Cup. Fifa subsequently denied the report and the tweet was removed.

Qataris in Doha echoed Mr Blatter’s claim that the snowballing accusations amounted to a smear campaign based on racism and bigotry.

The Fifa president said last week that “once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup”.

“Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me.”

Some Qataris say the scandal was also motivated by jealousy and greed.

“They know that Qatar will do something amazing, like nothing before, so they don’t want us to have it,” said Abdulaziz, 22, who works for Qatar Airways.

“It’s important for Qatar. This is a big advertisement, big for business, and good for the economy.”

Watching the game with friends at his majlis in Al Wakraa, Khaled, a businessman, went further.

“They are making this problem just to take the World Cup away from Qatar. They don’t want Qatar to have it.”

“Of course we want it, it’s good for Qatar, for the economy, for tourism, and for the Middle East.”

The World Cup scandal comes at a crucial time for Qatar, facing growing isolation as a result of its foreign policy and criticism over its human-rights record.

Its support for Muslim Brotherhood-led administrations in Egypt and Libya, and its alleged support for radical rebels in Syria have strained ties with its Gulf neighbours.

A row with over its support to the Brotherhood in March saw Saudi Arabia threaten to cut trade ties and close airspace. Meanwhile, media reports of human-rights abuses and poor conditions for hundreds of thousands of labourers working on its ambitious construction projects prompted the International Trade Union Confederation last month to describe Qatar as a “slave state”.

“We are so excited that all the world will see Qatar. We want all the world to come and see Doha,” said Ader, 19, who was watching the match with friends at Souq Waqif.

But Eid Al Shanali, seated on plush cushions as he watched the opening match in a restaurant, had a different assessment. While he is rooting for Argentina to win this World Cup, he said Qatar’s chances of hosting the 2022 event were of little concern.

“Qatar may deserve it, but I don’t care: I’m Saudi.”