By Andrew Warshaw
May 20 – Sepp Blatter’s support for the United States’ 2022 World Cup bid has been largely ignored and should face more scrutiny, according to the head of Qatar’s much-maligned winning bid.
Organising chief Hassan Al-Thawadi (pictured), whose country has faced constant criticism in the west since beating the United States, the pre-ballot favourite, at the December 2010 vote, says the Gulf state simply had the best presentation and, not for the first time, he refutes any question of impropriety.
Al-Thawadi questions why no fingers have been pointed at Blatter who claimed, after being removed from office as FIFA president, that there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” for Russia to stage the World Cup in 2018 and for the tournament to return to the US in 2022. Although Russia was successful, Qatar beat the US 14-8 in the final round for 2022.
“Blatter wanted the US to win – it’s just fascinating that nobody is raising any concerns about that and looking into that one to start off with,” Al-Thawadi said. “But fair enough. I guess we will take the flak again.”
“He said he wanted the US to win … regardless of the merits of the bid, regardless of anything else.”
Despite being the subject of an ongoing Swiss probe into the entire bid process, Qatar has persistently denied any wrongdoing and speaking at the Chatham House policy institute in London, Al-Thawadi said it was time the Gulf state’s critics backed off.
“We face these questions that other bids don’t have to face,” Al-Thawadi said. “Yet we have co-operated fully. Other nations face accusation of corruption and not a single person has raised an eyebrow.”
One of the reasons for western scepticism is Qatar’s size, another is the heat – 2022 will be the first ever winter World Cup – and a third is the treatment of migrant workers.
Al-Thawadi refutes the suggestion that no progress is being made and points out that the antiquated kafala system, tying migrant workers to ‘sponsor’ employers, will soon be abolished and replaced by proper working contracts though he admits more could be done and things could go faster.
“This is issue is taken seriously at the highest level,” he told his audience. “We were acutely aware of its importance at the outset. We knew the international spotlight would shine on this matter and we have no intention of hiding from this. The government is committed to a programme of continuous reform of labour laws and practises.”
Stressing Qatar had “never shied away” from addressing the issue and was not simply implementing what he described as “quick-fix Band Aid solutions to silence the critics”, Al-Thawadi nevertheless denounced what he called “false figures” of the number of deaths of migrant workers (up to 1,200 according to unconfirmed reports) and the “divisive rhetoric” being spread.
“Making false accusations does nothing to create change and instead serves to damage the efforts we are working to implement,” he said. “We believe that the progress attained so far deserves some sort of recognition.”
“Hosting the World Cup is not some whimsical vanity project. We want to ensure that the Middle East’s first World Cup is an important event in the history of our region.”
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