Secret slush funds, junkets, gifts and payments to football officials. At first glance, the latest allegations that a Qatari official greased palms to help buy the 2022 World Cup for his Gulf nation make very depressing reading for anyone who loves the global game and its showcase tournament.
But the silver lining is this: better that this came to light than not at all. This stink bomb couldn't have been rolled into FIFA's house at a more opportune time. With global attention latching onto football because of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, outside pressure on football's governing body and Qatar for plausible answers, for action and for heads to roll will be intense.
The spotlight now falls on two people: FIFA president Sepp Blatter and FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia.
Blatter should resist calls — at least for now — for Qatar to be stripped of the 2022 World Cup or for a re-vote to be held. Such a momentous and unprecedented decision, which would be a huge affront to the tiny but very rich nation in a volatile, complicated and strategic part of the world, cannot be taken lightly. It should not be taken in the heat of the moment. Nor should it be a knee-jerk response to allegations in a newspaper.
Politicians and others so quick to suggest that Qatar is no longer or perhaps never was a suitable and trustworthy World Cup host should pause and take breath. They should consider how public opinion in the Middle East might react if Qatar was shamed in the eyes of the world by being stripped of the tournament, especially if evidence to justify such a financial, geopolitical, legal, social and sporting earthquake is anything less than rock-solid.
They also should consider whether pressure on FIFA to ditch Qatar is based on an abundance of cold, hard facts and incontrovertible proof of Qatari wrongdoing that makes FIFA's 2010 vote for the Gulf nation invalid. Or is Western snobbery, jealousy of Qatar's wealth and disdain — verging on borderline racism at times — for what is a new frontier in the global spread of football also playing a role, even a minor one, here?
Yes, the evidence of apparent sleaze, patronage and influence-buying leaked to the Sunday Times by what it called "a senior FIFA insider" does look compelling. It alleged that Qatari official Mohamed bin Hammam, subsequently banned for life by FIFA in 2012, made dozens of payments totaling $5 million to generate a swell of support in the game for Qatar and its unlikely but ambitious bid to play the World Cup in air-conditioned stadiums in a country with no footballing tradition.
And, yes, these aren't the first allegations to suggest that the Qatar vote was crooked. Qatar 2022 organizers issued a statement denying "all allegations of wrongdoing" and said Bin Hammam played no role in the bid. The Sunday Times investigation was impressively detailed, with emails and spreadsheets showing apparent payments and favors for African football officials.
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