By: Mollie Crook
Over a decade ago, it was announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup. This was a decision engulfed in controversy from the very beginning, when it was rumored that the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid team ran a secret campaign in 2010 in an attempt to sabotage competing countries’ bids to host.
Later, documents leaked in the British Sunday Times revealed that the Qatari bid team employed a United States personal relations firm and ex-CIA agent to run a smear campaign against its rivals, including the United States and Australia. Cornerstone Global Associates, a global consulting firm headquartered in Britain, has recently reported that the Qatari government distributed bribes to Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) executives in the hopes of sabotaging other potential host countries’ chances of being selected.
This allegation came in just months after the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates began a blockade of Qatar. The blockade “is the result of a long-running political dispute between Qatar and several of its neighbors, who accuse it of financial terrorism and working too closely with Iran.” Interestingly, Cornerstone Global Associates President Ghanem Nuseibeh has documented connections with Emirati elites. It has been rumored that Cornerstone attempted to bribe Mike Holtzman, a public relations executive who worked with the Qatari bid team, to divulge potentially damaging information about the World Cup. It has yet to be confirmed whether Holtzman actually went through with the agreement or not, but this situation serves only to increase tensions throughout the Middle East.
Only adding to the chaos, FIFA has proposed that some of the games be played in Oman and Kuwait due to the expansion of the number of teams from 32 to 48. Oman and Kuwait have sought to remain neutral and avoid involvement in the Gulf Crisis that has tainted the 2022 World Cup, and Qatar still has yet to even agree to this arrangement.
Although the FIFA officials see this suggestion as a mechanism to unite the region and form a “broader Middle Eastern World Cup,” it is quite possible the rift between the countries within and outside of the blockade may render this dream impossible. Despite what FIFA may hope, soccer alone may not be able to resolve political tension and controversy.