Amid allegations of corruption, football fans deserve better

Doha's reportedly murky dealings run deep into the heart of football's highest institution

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 02, 2010 shows FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
The opening this week of the glittering Louvre Abu Dhabi museum marks the latest stage in a multi-billion-dollar "soft power" showdown between energy giants Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Culture, media and sports have turned into battlegrounds for branding and global recognition.
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Mystery payments to Swiss bank accounts, high-level bribery, meetings with politicians and multimillion dollar business deals: all relate to Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, according to a report by the newly launched Foundation for Sports Integrity. Although an official inspection team had ranked Qatar last out of nine potential host countries in terms of suitability to host the competition, the nation's bid was successful. According to the foundation, the "bidding process was the most blatant example of Fifa's corruption...Qatar's victory was completely illegitimate". The World Cup is universally adored as a spellbinding demonstration of athleticism, competitiveness and national pride. Many of the controversies surrounding Qatar's hosting rights will no doubt be forgotten when the first ball is kicked –but the thrill of the tournament cannot eclipse the deeply disturbing revelations which continue to emerge about the scale of corruption within football's upper echelons and Doha's readiness to exploit it for national gain.

Nearly a year into the Arab quartet's boycott of Qatar, the allegations of Doha's murky dealings continue to multiply, not least when it comes to the World Cup. Qatar reportedly paid about Dh17.6 million into the Swiss bank account of the late Fifa executive Julio Grondona, who went on to support Qatar's bid. A Dh245m debt owed by the Argentinian football association was also allegedly paid off. A large business deal between Qatar Airways and French firm Airbus allegedly followed a meeting between the emir of Qatar, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy and former Uefa president Michel Platini, who also voted for Qatar. These and other damaging allegations appear to explain how an ill-prepared outsider secured the game's biggest spectacle and offer a worrying insight into how Doha conducts business. Another extraordinary scandal, reported by The Washington Post, links multi-million dollar Qatari sponsorship of the Big3 basketball league, co-run by former rapper Ice Cube, with alleged efforts to procure influence in the administration of US President Donald Trump, through his former confidante Steve Bannon. Quite apart from the Arab quartet's concerns about Doha's sponsorship of terrorism, Qatar has allegedly sought to boost its soft power through bribes to multiple institutions, from Fifa to the US government.

It is no secret that football’s governing body is rotten to the core. Fifa’s former president Sepp Blatter, who was in charge when Qatar won the 2022 bid, is serving a six-year ban for corruption and financial mismanagement and is currently facing sexual assault accusations. When Mr Blatter was ejected in 2015, there was hope that the organisation would leave its corrupt past behind. It will rightly come under renewed pressure to strip Qatar of the competition and carry out an internal investigation in the wake of the most recent allegations. The millions of fans eagerly anticipating 2022’s festival of football deserve better.