Qatar’s World Cup team still find themselves putting out the remaining fires of controversy which followed the Gulf state’s historic victory in the World Cup bidding showdown in Zurich last December. They find it tiresome, wearing and distracting and – to some extent – they do not understand quite why the media has not moved on.
An echo of that concern was expressed by project leader Hassan Al Thawadi when he addressed the LeadersinFootball conference at Stamford Bridge. The theme was set at reviewing how Qatar’s planning is shaping up nearly a year after the 2018 and 2022 bid battles were resolved.
He said: “We did not know or expect the avalanche of accusations and allegations that we would face in the immediate aftermath of what was a historic day for sport in our country and for the wider region. Baseless accusations were made against our bid. We were presumed guilty before innocent without a shred of evidence being provided.
“I want to reiterate that we conducted our bid to the highest ethical and moral standards. We are immensely proud of the bid that we submitted to FIFA – one that outlined a bold legacy for football development not just in Qatar, but across the Middle East.”
He has also had to explain that Mohamed Bin Hammam and everything associated with his disastrous FIFA presidential bid had nothing to do with the Qatar hosting. The only connection is nationality. Indeed, Bin Hammam was an early skeptic about Qatar’s bid and maintained a significant distant from the bid team since, as AFC president, he had to treat other regional bidders with equal disdain.
As for the Qatar’s expectation that criticism would fall away, history tells a different tale. World Cup bid victors have to deal traditionally with a slew of accusations and criticisms which run right through until the kick-off of the Opening Match.
Brazil is undergoing that ‘treatment’ now over whether its transport infrastructure will not merely be ready but be up to World Cup standard in time for the finals in 2014; South Africa faced perpetual questioning over similar issues plus security all the way up until 2010; and, going further back, the question of whether Japan and South Korea could set aside historical issues was a negative feature all the way up to the finals in 2002.
This writer well recalls the irritation in the voice of Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the South African bid and then organizing authority, addressing a promotional event in Vienna during the finals of the 2008 European Championship.
“Why,” he asked, “am I still having to deal with whether we deserved to be awarded the World Cup? I want to be telling people how great it will be. Instead I have to keep going back over the old issues as if I were still in bid mode.”
So there it is. The Qataris are not the first bid team who have to go on in ‘selling’ mode long after FIFA’s president has put his signature to the foot of the award contract. They will not be the last; it’s just that – with 11 years to go – they will be the last for some considerable time.
By Keir Radnedge