World

Blatter key to Qatar 2022 decision

Owen Gibson

Qatar will try to hold on to the World Cup prize, but will Fifa intervene? Owen Gibson outlines the possible options.

Poisoned chalice: Fifa president Josef 'Sepp' Blatter (right) hands over the World Cup trophy to the Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. (AFP)

1 – Qatar retains the 2022 World Cup

Under this scenario, the Qatari 2022 team would continue to ride out the storm on three fronts: the searing heat in the summer months when the tournament is due to be played, the international outcry over the treatment of migrant workers engaged in a R2.2-trillion dash to construct the infrastructure required, and the newly reignited controversy over how it won the bid in the first place. Individually, they may believe they can plot a path through all three.

A process is already in train that would see the tournament move to November and December, despite complaints from European professional leagues and United States broadcasters, by the end of the year.

Realising that the constant stream of negative stories over the mistreatment of migrant workers was a PR disaster, the government recently made vague pledges to reform the kafala sponsorship system at its root.

And in trying to see off the latest challenge from the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times, it will employ the finest lawyers money can buy and continue to cling to the claim that Mohamed bin Hammam’s case – the Qatari former Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) vice-president who was banned for life over bribery claims after taking on Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency – was entirely separate from the bid.

On each of those, the Qataris might be able to hold the line individually. But together, they may be hard to sustain – especially in the know-ledge that there are still seven years to go. Holding on to the prize that has so far proved a poisoned chalice relies on convincing Blatter that it would be more trouble to wrestle it from them than to stick with them.

The fact that it may be hard to rerun the 2022 vote without also re-opening the 2018 bid, amid little appetite to take on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, may also play in Qatar’s favour. But if the odds on a sensational rerunning of the vote were long a year ago, they are shortening all the time.

2 – Fifa reruns the vote for the 2022 World Cup alone

Given the pile-up of problems facing the Qatar World Cup, the previously unthinkable step of running the vote again is now being discussed openly in Fifa circles.

Much depends on the verdict of Michael Garcia, the former New York district attorney who has spent the past 18 months investigating claims of corruption during the controversial and confusing dual bidding process. He has travelled the world talking to witnesses, including those from the English Football Association, and has now promised to deliver his report within seven weeks. But it does not appear he will consider the evidence collated by the Sunday Times.

Depending on the findings, Blatter may decide to strip Qatar of the tournament using Fifa’s powers as football’s ultimate governing body.

It would be difficult to use the extreme heat as a pretext, given that Fifa has argued extensively that it has the right to move the tournament to winter.

But if Garcia has turned up clear evidence of illicit payments that affected the final vote, that would give Blatter the ammunition to call for a revote.

The legal fallout would be sizable but it would allow the 78-year-old Fifa president, who did not vote for Qatar and favoured the US for 2022, to claim he had solved the problem, in advance of another run at the presidency in 2015.

3 – Fifa reruns the vote for the 2018 World Cup as well

Few within the president’s office or Fifa wish to challenge Putin’s grip on the 2018 tournament, part of a double act with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics that he hoped would showcase Russia’s strength to the world.

The focus on 2022 has meant comparatively little scrutiny of the 2018 race, although the rumour mill surrounding the Russian bid was just as febrile as others.

Garcia has also been examining the 2018 race but is unlikely to have uncovered conclusive proof of direct bribes to individual executive committee members. Just four years out, and in the wake of the troubled pre-parations for the Brazil tournament, there is little desire to find a new host for the 2018 tournament. That may play into the Qataris’ hands given the sense that it may be hard to rerun one without re-examining the other.

4 – Sepp Blatter stands for a fifth term as Fifa president

Despite saying that his current term as president would be his last, after standing unopposed in a hugely controversial election in 2011 following his rival Bin Hammam’s demise in a blizzard of bribery allegations, Blatter has vowed to go on and on.

At Fifa’s congress next week, Blatter will announce that he is standing for a fifth term as president next year, when he will be 79.

He recently claimed his “mission” was not yet complete and the sense that he controls the weather within the bizarre and often opaque ecosystem of Fifa patronage is, if anything, stronger than ever. He has seen off the likes of Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer and Bin Hammam.

Once cast out of Fifa they largely maintained the code of omertà characteristic of the organisation. Blatter has remained as the last man standing, slowly undermining the case of his prospective rival, Michel Platini.

That Platini, the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) president, has been closely linked with the Qatar bid has not gone unnoticed and Blatter continues to drop not-so-subtle reminders.

Despite Blatter’s rock-bottom reputation in some parts of the world, his support base within Fifa’s 209 members remains strong, partly as a result of the riches and patronage the development programme he helped to devise has bestowed upon them.

5 – Fifa is fundamentally reformed from top to bottom

Although many have called for a fundamental overhaul of the organisation to improve transparency and introduce corporate governance standards that have now become the norm elsewhere in business and the public sector, Blatter, who refers to himself as the “captain” of the listing ship, has only conceded limited reform.

Mark Pieth, brought in to chair an independent governance committee, recently ended his tenure in frustration. His final report listed seven recommendations, including a central “fit and proper” test for all executive committee members and the introduction of term limits, which had not been implemented by Blatter.

Although there is broad agreement that Fifa needs to be reformed, without concerted political pressure it is likely Blatter will continue to run the organisation according to his will. And while he remains at the helm, it is difficult to see how Fifa’s reputation in the eyes of the world can begin to be rehabilitated. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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