The first world championship in the Middle East is not that far away. In September in the South American continent, the first qualifying matches begin, so Qatar 2022 starts to become a reality. But something is not right yet.
The assignment of the World Cup to the Arab country is still lacking today to provoke controversy on two fronts: the conditions of the workers who are building the stadiums and the alleged bribes paid to Fifa to win the candidacy.
THE SUNDAY TIMES INQUIRY
The assignment of the 2022 world championship took place in December 2010. Since then it has been a succession of suspicions and inquiries into the regularity of the votes that bring the world cup to the shores of the Persian Gulf.
At the logistic level there is perplexity about the quality of the project, but the Arab country is as small as it is rich. Oil and especially gas guarantee important revenues, which allows Doha to have one of the richest sovereign wealth funds in the world. Here is one of the reasons why it is thought that, behind the scenes of the votes, the petrodollars may have weighed on the assignment.
The Sunday Times is returning to the subject, already actually faced in 2014 on various international newspapers. A survey by the British newspaper shows an alleged round of bribes of half a billion Dollars that from Doha directly reach the top of Fifa in Switzerland. All this just a few days after the most important steps that led to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar on 2nd December 2010.
Not only the payment of 400 million Dollars made by the Qatari sovereign fund, but also the interest of the leaders of Al Jazeera, the all-news TV that has its headquarters in Doha. According to the documents revealed by the Sunday Times, the broadcaster would have offered $100 million for broadcasting rights if the world cup was assigned to Qatar.
So a total of half a billion, capable of decisively influencing the outcome of the voting. To these, it is necessary to add another 480 million Dollars promised to Fifa always for the speech concerning TV rights. A few years ago the governing body of the football federation carried out an investigation into that assignment, but then it was archived just a few weeks after the promise of 480 million Dollars.
The Sunday Times reports some responses from Fifa after the same body that manages international football was contacted by British journalists. In these replies, the federation stated that the accusations documented by the Sunday Times are the subject of internal comments and evaluations since 2017, the conclusions from June of that year can be viewed at the Fifa website: “Our institution collaborates with all the authorities to shed light on the matter”. But, you can bet, from now until 2022 the world championship in Qatar is destined to be discussed again.
IS THE NEW FORMAT POSSIBLE AS EARLY AS 2022?
Meanwhile, the idea of assisting the 48-team world championship debut in three years, despite the current 32, is taking hold. A formula already approved, but whose entry into force is expected only in 2026, when the world cup will be played between the USA, Mexico and Canada. Now, however, FIFA would like to anticipate the times and lead to the widening of the competition in the Qatar 2022 edition. The Associated Press reveals an 81-page report written by some FIFA executives, which should be discussed in June: in it, the project of the 48-team world in three years is explained.
The tournament would be organised with the customary division between the group stage and the knockout stage, but there would be many more games to play. In fact the groups would pass from the current eight, formed by four teams, to the 16 with three formations inside. The first two go to the final sixteenth place, at which point the scoreboard would scroll with a “tennis” format until the final.
Clear then that to carry out such a project, more stages are needed that Qatar cannot afford. And this is because it is difficult to overturn the project three years after the starting whistle of the world championship, and because physically there is no space for the construction. Thus, according to the report released by the AP, the enlargement of the 48-team world championship could only take place if other states in the organisation join Qatar.
In terms of economic strength and in terms of logistics, one could think of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as other host countries. But, on a political level, the project is not feasible. These are governments that since June 2017 have been applying heavy international sanctions to Qatar. We therefore think of other states in the region, although not neighbouring. In pole position, there would be Kuwait and Oman to support Doha. But, precisely, between scandals and politics, everything is still to be seen.