Another day, another diatribe in the never-ending tit-for-tat saga sparked four years ago this week by FIFA’s award of the 2022 World Cup finals to Qatar. Russia, gifted 2018 simultaneously, has enjoyed an easy ride while the pros and cons of the 2022 debate have flooded headline and air time.
While life in Qatar goes on as usual amid 24-hour construction and rush-hour traffic jams so football’s most increasingly impenetrable issue has been played out in cyberspace with each succeeding incident being projected as if the end of world – or, at least, World Cup – were nigh.
On Sunday it was the latest raft of allegations from The Sunday Times, cautiously protected by the artifice of parliamentary privilege (the heat shield behind which Lord David Triesman dodged to make his own allegations against Worawi Makudi & Co).
The media see-saw tipped the other way later in the day when FIFA president Sepp Blatter proclamed his loudly-applauded devotion to the Qatari Cup at an Asian confederation awards gala in Manila.
Simultaneously Qatar 2022′s communications director Nasser Al-Khater expressed a belief in “reader fatigue” at the ongoing slew of allegations.
“The same stuff is being regurgitated so many times I think people are questioning the motive now, not the story,” he said, also in Manila. “What I understand is that the Sunday Times went to parliament before publishing to get parliamentary privilege . . . so already that tells me that they’re looking for some protection.
“I’m pretty sure people are already feeling tired of this story. I think there’s already reader fatigue.”
The Sunday Times does not think so. Within hours of Al-Khater’s presumption of ennui so the newspaper’s investigative reporters, Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, collected jointly a UK Sports Journalist of the Year award for their work in digging down into the bid scandal farrago.
Around the same time Blatter flew on from Manila to Sri Lanka and cast prime responsibility for construction workers’ deaths in Qatar on their multinational employers rather than the world football federation: “There are companies in Qatar from Germany, France and other European countries and they are responsible for their workers and not FIFA.”
Almost, it seems, to the frustration of critics, no-one has died on a direct World Cup construction project. A simple reason exists: the planned stadia have barely progressed beyond the drawing boards.
But, at a time when the International Olympic Committee has decided to bring human rights into bidding play, so FIFA remains a hindsight-fuelled target for its failure to have done the same before the 2018 and 2022 decisions on December 2, 2010.
This is the inescapable crux of the matter. Critics of the 2022 award – such as German federation president Wolfgang Niersbach, league president Reinhard Rauball and his ceo Christian Seifert – have a plethora of targets at which to aim and which have sparked talk of UEFA quitting the world federation altogether.
When voices were raised in England about a FIFA walkout, the wider football world took no notice: such opinions were dismissed as mere sour grapes over the 2018 bid vote humiliation, as was then FA chairman David Bernstein’s backfiring salvo at Blatter during the 2010 presidential re-election.
But for Germany, Europe’s most powerful federation, to raise the spectre was something else entirely. Germany’s exemplary resolution at the heart of the European football political scene – and not always as a winner – has enobled it as a serious, heavyweight player in the UEFA v FIFA dynamic (Ex-DFB president Theo Zwanziger sits on the FIFA exco but he has been effectively disowned by his own federation and will be gone at the end of next May).
Not that the man on the Qatar omnibus (or limo) takes any notice. A host of international sports federations – such as swimming association FINA currently – fly their superstar names in and out of the new Hamad International Airport with merry-go-round speed.
Tennis, swimming and the rest flood in so no-one doubts that football will be following suit.
Indeed, it has done and continues to do so. Juventus will play Napoli in the delayed Italian Supercup at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22 and tickets have just gone on sale on the Qatar Football Association website at the equivalent of £50 and £33.
Meanwhile the members of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (informally known as the local organising commitee) marked the fourth anniversary of the hosting award by unveiling the design for the fourth of what will probably eight stadia (including the Khalifa International which is undergoing redevelopment).
This latest venue is labelled the Qatar Foundation Stadium and Health & Wellness Precinct. The stadium will have a 40,000 capacity qualifying it to host matches up to the quarter-finals. Then it can be deconstructed to 25,000.
Delivery date is 2018 and the complex will be “offering health and medical clinics for adults and children, male and female gymnasiums, swimming pool, tennis courts, football pitches, cycling and climbing.”
Sounds almost too good to be true.