By Paul Kennedy
More than two years after FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the controversy surrounding the decision still lingers.
In a 15-page article published on Tuesday, the Paris magazine France Football examines "Qatargate" and whether FIFA should pull the tournament from Qatar.
The accusations aren't exactly revelatory but they are numerous:
-- The votes of African confederation president Issa Hayatou (Cameroon) and Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast) were bought for $1.5 million apiece, then the whistle-blower, former Qatari bid employee Phaedra Al Majid, mysteriously retracted, saying she made everything up.
-- Qatar "sponsored" the 2010 African confederation congress to the tune of $1.25 million to gain exclusive access to the four Africans on the FIFA executive committee.
-- One of the four, Nigerian Amos Adamu, was suspended from the executive committee before the vote following revelations in a Sunday Times sting investigations. The Qataris have subsequently been accused of seeking to "sponsor" a pre-World Cup 2010 banquet to the tune of $1 million. Its organizer: Adamu's son.
-- Then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked UEFA President Michel Platini, who was expected to support the USA, to vote for Qatar for geopolitical reasons. Sarkozy and Platini met with the Qatari crown prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in 2010 to discuss Qatari investment in French soccer. (It has since bought Paris St. Germain and launched beIN Sport in France.)
-- A Qatari representative offered to spend millions on pumping up ailing Argentine soccer to gain the vote of Argentine Julio Grondona.
-- Middle Eastern holding companies bankrolled deals struck by since-disgraced Brazilian soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira.
-- A sweetheart deal was struck with the Spanish federation to organize a friendly game in Qatar and "silence" Angel Maria Villar, who supposedly had a vote-swapping pact with Qatar to back Spain's 2018 World Cup bid with Portugal and was furious that in fact Russia won the 2018 contest easily.
-- The Qatari sports agency Aspire spent millions on promoting youth sports in countries with members on FIFA's executive committee.
Was this corruption or what France Football termed a collusion of interests? And does it matter?
Interviewed by France Football, former FIFA executive Guido Tognoni (perhaps best remembered for pressing FIFA's case to oust the late U.S. Soccer president Werner Frickerin 1990) says deals of convenience have been the modus operandi within FIFA circles for decades and everything was organized like a "petit mafia."
No one interviewed, though, thought the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup would be overturned.
Former New York Federal prosecutor Michael Garcia was last year appointed the chief prosecutor of FIFA's new independent, investigatory chamber, and only if he were to uncover a smoking gun would there be any chance of a serious move to overturn the vote taken in December 2010.
The beneficiary of a move to overturn the 2022 award would, of course, be the United States, which lost to Qatar, 14-8, in the final round of voting. But U.S. Soccer spokesperson Neil Buethe would not comment on "hypotheses" about a re-vote.
Qatargate lingers in part because Qatar 2022 made no sense in the first place. How do you organize a World Cup in a country where the summer temperatures top 110 degrees? Qatar presented plans to air condition the dozen stadiums it plans to build, but Chuck Blazer, the U.S. representative on the executive committee, famously remarked, "I don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."
Platini has pressed Qatar to hold the tournament in the winter. FIFA's position is that any request to switch the dates must come from the Qataris, who say they'll consider a switch if requested, meaning they are at a standoff. If the 2022 World Cup was switched to the winter, the international club calendar would need to be switched.
Interviewed by France Football, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former German great who is now the chairman of Bayern Munich and president of the powerful lobby of European clubs, says he was favorable to the idea of a winter World Cup -- especially if it means the club season is switched from a fall-spring season to a spring-fall season, meaning leagues would play through the summer, and all national team action took place after the club season ended. Rummenigge suggested that a schedule change should not be viewed as a problem, but a chance to innovate for the general good.
The USA might not get to organize the 2022 World Cup it coveted, but it might be vindicated in the battle over the soccer calendar it has fought for years.