The Qatar Connection How Oil Might Can Make A Nation Host of the World Cup

Michele Platini, president of UEFA, European football’s governing body, had been invited to dinner at the Elysee Palace by the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, several days before FIFA’s executive committee vote for Qatar, to host the 2022 world cup, in November 2010. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the then emir of Qatar, was also at the dinner, reads a French publication. Platini admitted to France Football that he had accepted Sarkozy’s invitation and had also voted for Qatar, but denied any agreements with the emir. This is how far the growing influence of the oil rich Middle Eastern country has reached. And it is using it aggressively to get what it wants including hosting the biggest sport event in the world, the FIFA world cup.

Located at the strategic, Persian (Arabian) Gulf and reach in oil, with around two million population, of which only 250 thousand are full citizens, Qatar has been trying to flex its economic muscle by tapping into its vast oil and gas reserves, since Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father and become the emir of the country in 1995. Qatar, a former pearl-fishing center and once one of the poorest Gulf States, is now one of the richest countries in the region, thanks to the exploitation of its large oil and gas fields since the 1940s.

Dominated by the Thani family for almost 150 years, the mainly barren country was a British protectorate until 1971, when it declared its independence after following suit with Bahrain and refusing to join the United Arab Emirates.

Possessing more than 15Pct of the world’s proven gas reserves and with a more than USD 175 billion GDP, Qatar has ambitions to become a global energy giant. It championed the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera that has become one of the most important broadcasters in the Arab world, and which recently has started Al-Jazeera America. The country is active on the regional and world stage, having mediated disputes in the Middle East and Africa.

The ambitious country and its ambitious leader were also able to host elite sporting activities, out bidding ‘bigger countries’, including high profile tennis and athletics events. The crown jewel of this success came when FIFA chose Qatar to host the 2022 world cup.

It has been announced that Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, after the FIFA Executive Committee voted in a secret ballot on December two 2010 in Zurich, Switzerland. Five candidates presented their bids to stage the 2022 edition of the world’s greatest sporting event.

In addition to the winner Qatar; Australia, Korea Republic, Japan and USA also submitted bids for the highly-prized hosting rights.

“I would like to congratulate Qatar and to also thank the other candidates for their efforts,” said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter after the selection. “The World Cup is going to new lands and I am a happy President as we speak of the development of football.”

Chairman of the Qatar bid, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani was near tears after the announcement. “Thank you for believing in change and believing in expanding the game and thank you for giving Qatar a chance,” he said. “We will not let you down. We will make you proud,” according to the official website of the world’s football governing body.

An ambassador for Qatar bid to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup, former France midfielder, Zinedine Zidane was all smiles when the result was announced.

Everything was going well for Qatar. But this was until reports start to emerge. The first one was how the summer desert heat in Qatar that reaches 50oc, will affect the human body (players). The research concludes it will have negative effects on the normal performance of the body and may even lead to death.

Then came a report by The Guardian, British newspaper, that tells the story of migrant laborers working on facilities for the world cup, which are facing hardship and how they are abused. According to the report in addition to mistreatments and poor living conditions, one laborer is dying every day, due to heart related cases in the extreme heat and work accidents. With this rate more than 4,000 laborers are expected to die by the time the world cup will be held.

Following these, allegations of bribery that were under the surface starts to emerge. FIFA’s notorious record of corruption stories now includes allegations of bribery in the selection of Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host. FIFA’s second in command suggested the desert nation had “bought” the right to host the world’s biggest single-sport event. Though Qatar’s World Cup organizers swiftly denied the implication made in a private email from FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and the secretary general shied away for his stand later on.

FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter said in an interview that “political influence” enabled Qatar to be the host of the 2022 World Cup, with European nations making the choice “because of major economic interests” in the Gulf state.

“European heads of government recommended a vote for Qatar to their (FIFA executive committee) members who were entitled to vote because they had large economic interests connected with this country,” the president went further.

Two Sunday Times reporters testified that they had been told that Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast and Issa Hayatou of Cameroon were each paid USD1.5 million to support Qatar’s bid for the tournament. Both of the accused refute the allegations.

Sticky Issues like alcohol consumption, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals and Transgender) fans and the participation of Israel were also among the concerns of many. The Qatari government stated that it would let the Israel national football team to participate in the World Cup on their territory despite it does not recognize the State of Israel.

After all these many have started expressing their disagreement to the idea of Qatar hosting the tournament. Sepp Blatter, originally the backer of the idea, has admitted that FIFA may have made “a mistake” in awarding the tournament to the Arab state. The former Liverpool defender and the now sky sport commentator Jamie Carragher says that the 2022 World Cup should be moved to another country, rather than played in the winter in Qatar, as is proposed so that to avoid the summer heat. The head of Qatar’s organising committee, Hassan Al-Thawadi says his country is also willing to change its plans. “If it’s a wish of the football community to have the World Cup in winter, then we are open to that,” he said.

The heat dips to an average of 20oc during the winter months. The host nation is planning to play games in air-conditioned stadiums during the summer season, but Blatter said, “The FIFA World Cup must be a festival of the people, but, for it to be such a festival, you can’t play football in the summer.”

“You can cool down the stadiums, but you can’t cool down the whole country and you can’t simply cool down the ambience of a World Cup. “The players must be able to play in the best conditions to play a good World Cup.”

According to reports, FIFA’s President wants to reschedule the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the winter to avoid the desert nation’s extreme heat.

Moving the World Cup to the winter would significantly impact on the European leagues.

Blatter insists it would only affect one season, but the English Premier League fear fixtures could be disrupted across Europe for three seasons.

“The Premier League’s view remains unchanged,” a spokesman said. “We are opposed to the concept of a winter World Cup for very obvious practical reasons that would impact on all of European domestic football.”

But Mark Perryman, of the London England Supporters group, told the BBC that a change to the timing of the World Cup should be welcomed.

He said, “It is high time we recognize that football is a world game. “Half the world in the southern hemisphere are effectively forced to play the World Cup in the middle of their season, so why is there so much upset in European nations when they are expected to do the same?”

But Former German soccer federation president Theo Zwanziger tells Sport Bild, apublication based in Germany, that a suggestion by FIFA President Sepp Blatter to play the tournament in winter would seriously affect the European leagues and threaten the “unity of German football.” He said that rather than rescheduling the tournament, it should be awarded to another country. “If the decision at the time was really wrong you have to cancel it and avoid burdens on those previously uninvolved,” Zwanziger said.

Australia’s football federation which spent more than USD40 million on its bid meanwhile may seek compensation if the 2022 World Cup is switched to the winter, its chief Frank Lowy has said.

FIFA’s president has admitted that there is a ground swell of popular support to re-hold the 2022 vote won by Qatar. But after a meeting on three and four of October 2013 the FIFA executive committee has decided the tournament will be held in Qatar, even though it may take a year or more to decide whether it will be held in winter or summer.

“The 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar - that’s it,’’ Blatter said. “We don’t know if it’s winter or summer. I do not know what will be the outcome.”

For a country that is used to getting what it wants it seems it has bite more than it can chew this time around.

Mikias Merhatsidk

EBR staff writter

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