A former FIFA executive has been accused of bribing soccer officials in exchange for support in Qatar’s controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari citizen and former FIFA executive committee member, is alleged to have paid $5 million in cash, gifts, and legal fees to key members of the 24-person committee that selected Qatar as host for 2022’s World Cup back in 2010, according to CNN.
FIFA investigator and former New York attorney Michael Garcia met with Qatari officials in Oman on Monday to discuss concerns surrounding Qatar's hosting bid legitimacy. His investigation is reportedly independent of the allegations against bin Hammam brought forth on Sunday by London newspaper The Sunday Times.
Qatar’s World Cup bid committee has denied bribery allegations and connections to bin Hammam during the bidding process.
“The Qatar 2022 bid committee always upheld the highest standard of ethics and integrity in its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” the committee said in a statement, as reported by the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
Several FIFA executives are gathering in São Paulo, Brazil this week for an annual congress ahead of 2014’s World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. FIFA officials could face a revote if evidence mounts against bin Hammam.
“I certainly, as a member of the executive committee, would have absolutely no problem whatsoever if the recommendation was for a revote,” FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce told the BBC yesterday.
“If Garcia comes up with concrete evidence and concrete evidence is given to the executive committee and to FIFA, then it has to be looked at very seriously,” he said.
Garcia’s investigation is set to conclude on June 9, only three days before the whistle blows for the 2014 World Cup's opening match. His report will be finalized within six weeks, according to The Associated Press.
Bin Hammam is accused of establishing as many as 10 slush funds to dole out money to FIFA officials in exchange for their support of a Qatari World Cup bid. He also allegedly distributed more than $400,000 in cash at parties for African soccer officials to garner support, according to Sky News.
“I think if it is shown it was a corrupt system and that the people who won used bribes and other influences to get the vote, then of course it has got to be done again,” said Greg Dyke, chairman of the Football Association in the U.K.
Qatar beat out South Korea, Japan and the U.S. for the right to host the 2022 international soccer tournament when the vote took place in 2010.
Bin Hammam was a member of the FIFA committee that awarded hosting rights to Qatar. He was even considered a candidate for FIFA’s presidency when he ran against current President Sepp Blatter in 2011, according to the BBC.
Then-FIFA vice president and current Trinidad politician Jack Warner was suspended from soccer's governing body for an alleged connection to bin Hammam’s 2011 bribery case. He resigned before an internal investigation was completed. At the time, Warner was the longest-serving member of FIFA’s executive committee, according to the Guardian.
The Sunday Times is reportedly in possession of “millions” of documents and emails detailing money transfers from bank accounts controlled by bin Hammam and his associates. Warner is among the alleged recipients.
Warner described claims of his connection with bin Hammam and an illegitimate 2022 World Cup as “foolishness” and a “witch hunt” organized by FIFA, according to the Guardian.
FIFA instituted a lifetime ban on bin Hammam in 2012, citing “repeated violations” of FIFA’s code of ethics, specifically relating to conflicts of interest, during his tenure as Asian Football Confederation President, according to a FIFA news release.
FIFA has been criticized for selecting Qatar for 2022’s summer tournament. Average daily temperatures in June and July regularly eclipse 100 degrees, according to The Weather Channel’s website. It was 108 degrees in Doha, Qatar earlier today, according to the website.
Concern over the effects the intense heat would have on fans and players led Blatter, the FIFA president, to suggest moving the 2022 tournament to winter months, possibly November, December or January, as reported by the BBC.
While this would allow for a healthier playing environment in Qatar, a winter schedule would interfere with international club soccer schedules, notably among players under contract in Barclays Premier League in the U.K., La Liga in Spain, the Bundesliga in Germany, and Serie A in Italy.
“We can't just, on a whim, decide to move to the winter. It's extremely difficult – nigh-on impossible in our view,” Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said in August 2013, as reported by ESPN.
“There's a whole series of complications, and consultation has to be separate with leagues on a global basis to make sure it works for everyone before a decision is made.”
No World Cup has ever been played outside of May, June or July, according to the BBC.
Qatar has also come under scrutiny for its labor conditions and treatment of migrant workers. A Qatari census released last week estimates that slightly more than 2 million people live in Qatar. But an Amnesty International study found that almost 94 percent of the country’s workforce is made up of migrant workers.
Almost 1.35 million people in Qatar are foreign nationals, according to the report. Many migrant workers were contracted under a “kafala” system, according to the Guardian. Under such a labor system, workers cannot leave the country or change jobs without the consent of their current employer.
The Qatari government reported that almost 1,000 migrant workers have died in 2012 and 2013, following construction projects of World Cup stadiums, according to the Guardian.
Qatar amended some of its labor laws following the report’s release, according to Bloomberg.
Blatter admitted on at least two occasions that awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup bid was “a mistake.” He told the Inside World Football website in September 2013 that “it may well be that we made a mistake” in selecting Qatar as host.
He also gave an interview on Swiss TV station RTS in May in which he described the decision as “an error,” according to Al-Jazeera.
"You know, everyone makes mistakes in life," said Blatter. "However, the executive committee, with an overwhelming majority, decided that the games would be in Qatar."
Blatter denies that bribery played a role in the location decision. He said the allegations are "driven by politics."
Bin Hammam responded to the accusations in The Sunday Times with a statement that “the truth will find its way to [the] public one way or another,” according to CNN.
CNN was able to speak to Sunday Times Deputy Editor Sarah Baxter. She said she believes the evidence against bin Hammam is overwhelming.
“Bit by bit, we have been unraveling it, and finally we hit the mother lode," Baxter said. "We've seen millions of documents that prove without a shadow of doubt that corruption was involved. There is clear evidence linking payments to people who have influence over the decision of who hosted the World Cup.”