Lee Wellings: Qatar 2022: Fact, speculation and balanced reporting

Do I think Qatar was awarded the World Cup fairly? I don’t know for sure. But nor do you.

If you happen not to have read any opinion on Qatar 2022 this week let me help you out with an example, from my country.

“It’s a scorchingly hot Islamic desert hellhole which routinely employs slave labour and has the kind of respect for human rights you might expect from, say, Darth Vader.”

This pretty much captures the level of considered analysis we are dealing with in the UK. This one to be found in a newspaper notorious for trying to pin the deaths of 96 innocent football fans on those 96 innocent football fans.

But it’s not just that particular tabloid. Far from it. One respected writer alleged terrorist links, another suggested the tournament should have been awarded to Australia…fair point, until the last line of his piece gave him away: “Qatar will host the World Cup and visiting fans will just have to pinch their noses at the stench.” The stench of what exactly? Corruption? Abuse of worker’s rights? Be nice if he’d made that a bit clearer.

Presuming the tournament is played in Qatar will these two football writers be there, or will they be turning down their accreditation? Will they be only agreeing to go under certain conditions? Will they be doing any investigative journalism to explore whether Qatar has moved on satisfactorily? Or will they sit in their ivory towers until the end of the year 2021 then suddenly soften to a Qatar World Cup?

I want to try and spell out my issue with coverage of Qatar 2022, and the information that is being fed to the public. I believe it’s my duty to do this because of the privileged position I am in. I have been able to put tough questions to FIFA and the Qatar World Cup Organisers as a neutral journalist for an international and independent news organisation.

Last week FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke made the time to face such questions despite the problems over Brazil. His answers can be seen on this website right now and in a forthcoming ‘Talk to Al Jazeera.’ programme. I accused FIFA of having been riddled with corruption for years. I pushed him on worker’s rights progress. And displayed incredulity at FIFA originally thinking the tournament could be played in such heat.

In October I grilled Qatar 2022’s Hassan al-Thawadi over workers rights while Al Jazeera was independently carrying out its own journalism in Qatar and other countries with such problems.

Do I think FIFA messed up by awarding two World Cups at once, leaving the process particularly vulnerable to ‘deals’ and ‘dark arts’? Yes and have told FIFA so.

Do I think Qatar ‘bought the World Cup’? I don’t know. I could speculate but I believe it’s for independent investigator Michael Garcia to enlighten us, not to presume anything.

Do I think the World Cup should be taken away from Qatar now? Absolutely not. Why would anyone even suggest it before the investigation’s findings are revealed? The World Cup should be in the Middle East. Those who say it should be taken away are those that need challenging. Because my key question is this. On what specific grounds?

Take it away because they bought the World Cup. The Daily Telegraph proved it.
No they didn’t. The Telegraph proved a further large payment had been made to disgraced former FIFA big-hitter Jack Warner and I congratulate them on that. The headline was designed to make us believe they had a smoking gun from Qatar 2022. Halfway through the piece the name Mohamed Bin Hammam appeared. The only Qatari mentioned by name. The man kicked out of FIFA for corruption around his attempt to become President. Did the Telegraph try and prove a link between Bin Hammam and Qatar 2022? If they had, trust me, my opinion would have changed. But there is no proven link. So it’s speculation.

Let’s hope Garcia can actually shed some proper light on this. And give us the facts.

Take it away because it’s hot.
This is FIFA’s fault. Sooner or later the tournament had to be played in a country with extreme temperatures in June/July. FIFA should have planned for this. Valcke graciously accepted my criticism. It’s not Qatar’s fault. Do you think it is? Tell me why? Should Qatar not have been allowed to bid?

Take it away because of the treatment of construction workers.
At last an issue where there is proof, an issue where action was needed urgently, an issue where action has been taken. Qatar, like many countries, and yes many countries in the region, needed to be tackled on this. It’s been a horrific situation.

A colleague said to me this morning that World Cups and Olympics should be awarded on humanitarian grounds. I am sympathetic to that view. But there is a limit to what FIFA can do. “We are not the United Nations.” Valcke told me. “But we can tell the country it goes against FIFA’s rules, it goes against FIFA’s ethics codes. It goes against FIFA’s principle. And we can help and change.’

I write before Theo Zwanziger has updated the FIFA Executive Committee on progress and await his words with interest.

Take it away because:
“It’s a scorchingly hot Islamic desert hellhole which routinely employs slave labour and has the kind of respect for human rights you might expect from, say, Darth Vader.”

If that’s your view please ask yourself if you’re being fair, if you’re informed, if you’ve been to Qatar, if you know anyone who’s been to Qatar, if the World Cup should ever be played in the Middle East, if you’d prefer to deal in fact than hearsay and supposition.

If after all of that you still want the World Cup taken from Qatar then fair enough. Everyone, even Qataris, are entitled to an opinion.

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at ten.a1634530099reeza1634530099jla@s1634530099gnill1634530099ew.ee1634530099l1634530099. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport