July 20 – The G20 demonstrations in Hamburg against Qatar last Saturday were paid for by an Egyptian businessman, according to German reports. The fake event that in turn spawned ‘fake’ news reports is one of an increasingly distorting series of stories and revelations that make the real situation in Qatar hard to understand, especially when trying to put into context any impact the blockade will have on the 2022 World Cup preparations and hosting.
The Hamburg protest was apparently funded by two Egyptian men, named Amro and Mohammed, who offered €1,000 to a refugee (named in a German newspaper report as Amhad O).
He was to join the demonstration against Qatar and bring friends, all of whom would receive €100. It seems this backfired as the lure of €100 brought many more people to demonstrate than the Egyptians had expected and they didn’t have enough money to pay them all. So those who didn’t get paid apparently turned the gathering into a pro-Qatar rally.
The range of PR armoury and dirty tricks aimed at Qatar is starting to look a little overwhelming. Finding the real truth is perhaps even more of a quagmire.
Last week reports that FIFA had received a collective request from Arab nations to strip Qatar as 2022 World Cup hosts very rapidly emerged as fake after news agency Reuters picked up the report from a Swiss website and sent it worldwide.
The revelation was published on what was a bogus version of the Swiss website, even saying FIFA president Gianni Infantino had told The Local that Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain had made the requests citing Article 85 of the FIFA statutes which concerns emergency action.
Clearly FIFA had not received such a request and the website denied it was one of their reports.
That the World Cup of football has no role in global geo-politics or is a political tool for a nation is as ridiculous a notion as playing football without a ball. But the realpolitik of the battle facing football is to keep this role to soft geo-politics rather than use it as a blunt instrument to justify or implement other national agendas – like, perhaps, invasion.
There are other distinctions to be recognised here. The planting of false information by illegal means is different to the use of influential lobbyists to spin an angle. Though neither are particularly commendable.
Qatar has accused its Gulf neighbours of breaking international law by hacking government websites and planting false information that has greatly contributed to the diplomatic rift in the region.
According to the Washington Post, US officials are aware that ministers from the United Arab Emirates held a meeting in May to discuss plans to hack Qatari government news and social media sites, posting false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani.
In this alleged hack, the emir makes disparaging remarks about Donald Trump, praises Hamas and supports Iran as an “Islamic power”. The Qataris say these remarks were never made – and commonsense would suggest that making them would have been a monumental act of political stupidity in the politics of the Gulf.
Then of course there is endless PR lobbying that pushes the boundaries of integrity and involvement in other national agendas. The UAE paid one PR firm, Quiller Consultants, £60,000 a month to brief UK journalists against Qatar. The UAE tried to keep their involvement in the campaign quiet. The campaign was a PR success resulting in 34 published stories and eight front-page headline stories.
Football is no less riddled with half-truths and manipulation of facts – the recently published Garcia Report being perhaps the most obvious example of contextually-absent interpretations of events.
For Qatar 2022 the pathway to hosting the event has been riddled with pot holes. The issues have not been around the physical infrastructure they would bring or the re-invention of their country (no other country has ever embraced a World Cup hosting that has brought such fundamental change to society). Instead focus on Qatar has been on the noise around their bid, summer climate and labour laws. All major issues, but all of which have been driven to various levels of hysteria. We are perhaps now seeing how some of that has happened.
So what next? Expect more fake news would be the logical conclusion. The reality is that fake news has always been part of the game, the difference from the past is that the players in the game have more tools to use and are getting more sophisticated.
But where the focus really needs to be at this stage is on what are the effects on Qatar of the blockade in terms of preparation for 2022. Have building projects gone on stop, is labour still on site, are materials reaching the venues, are there any slippages in timescales, what are the contingencies in place, is Qatar still able to participate regionally with its many football programmes, are there security issues?
The answers to these questions can’t be faked.
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