Qatar facing renewed FIFA corruption allegations

Nasser al-Khelaifi, CEO of Qatar’s beIN Media and president of PSG

With more revela­tions from a New York trial and an ongoing investiga­tion into the head of the beIN Media group, Qatar is again at the centre of football cor­ruption allegations.
During the trial of three senior South American football officials in federal court in New York, Ale­jandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing com­pany Torneos y Competencias, testified that at least 22 FIFA ex­ecutive committee voters received million-dollar bribes to support Qatar’s winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Burzaco, who has accepted a plea bargain in the case, detailed a 2011 phone conversation between the head of the Argentine Football Association, Julio Grondona, and the former president of the Brazil­ian Football Confederation, Ricar­do Teixeira, that appeared to con­firm that Manama had bribed FIFA delegates voting in 2010 on what countries should host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
“He [Grondona] told me… that Ricardo Teixeira [owes] him $1 million because Julio Grondona voted for Qatar 2022 as the hosting nation of the World Cup,” Burzaco said on November 15.
He also said Grondona, who died in 2014, had been unimpressed with his million-dollar payout after it emerged that other FIFA officials had received substantially more and that he had later confronted Qatari officials and demanded $80 million.
Qatar sought to play down the courtroom revelations. “It is all hearsay and there is no evidence. We are confident in the integrity of our bid,” said Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is charged with overseeing the 2022 World Cup.
“We are confident of the people we engage with. We are confident in the manner in which we en­gaged with them,” he added.
Burzaco was asked by prosecu­tors to identify a photograph of Qa­tar’s Nasser al-Khelaifi, chairman of France’s Paris St-Germain foot­ball team and chief executive of beIN Media Group, with legal ana­lysts saying this could indicate that he could subsequently be linked to a wider conspiracy.
Another witness in the trial, for­mer Argentine financial executive Santiago Pena, said al-Khelaifi had been in negotiations to buy Argen­tinian firm Full Play Group, a com­pany that was used as an interme­diary in paying off FIFA officials. Pena, a former Full Play executive, also testifying as part of a plea bar­gain, revealed that the talks only came to an end when Swiss au­thorities arrested a number of of­ficials on corruption charges and opened criminal proceedings into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup.
Swiss prosecutors have also opened criminal proceedings against al-Khelaifi over allegations that he paid bribes to former FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke for the broadcasting rights of the 2026 and 2030 world cups. Valcke was fired from FIFA in January 2016 and received a 10-year ban from the sport.
The latest controversy has reig­nited the calls for the 2022 World Cup to be stripped from Qatar fol­lowing an October risk report by management consultants Corner­stone Global that said there was a growing possibility that the coun­try would not host the tourna­ment.
Entitled “Qatar in focus: Is the FIFA World Cup 2022 in danger?”, the report revealed that West­ern diplomats had privately ex­pressed doubts about whether the tournament could go ahead as planned given the tense regional climate and an ongoing corruption probe.
“The reasons for this are many and include open allegations of corruption – both in the bidding process and the infrastructure de­velopment,” the report said.
There has been increased fatigue within football towards the ongo­ing FIFA corruption scandal, with many calling for authorities to take a stand.
“Of the 25 FIFA executives in­volved in the voting for Qatar… 13 have either been banned from football or deemed demonstrably corrupt. Only three have escaped any stain at all,” said Britain’s Guardian senior sports writer Bar­ney Ronay.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bah­rain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar in June over what they de­scribed as Doha’s interference in their countries’ affairs and its support for radical groups. This crisis has spread into world foot­ball, with some Arab fans saying they would boycott any World Cup in Qatar and Egypt’s football association saying it would object to any match officiated by a Qatari referee at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.