According to a new report, the diplomatic crisis in Qatar may lead to cancellation of the nation’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup. The report cites corruption in the World Cup selection process, the current political crisis, and the threat of Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee member’s resignation.
Qatar was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010, making it the first Middle Eastern nation to win the selection competition, surprising many when it beat out the highly favored United States and England. The selection process was subsequently met with accusations of corruption, which are now being investigated by the FBI and Swiss authorities. The investigation is currently focusing on allegations against former FIFA official Jérôme Valcke, with some insisting Valcke accepted bribes for selection votes from companies looking to gain media rights to the 2022 World Cup. The investigation also includes the CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who has been accused of illegally trying to win media rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups by paying by paying members of FIFA he is working with on the Qatar World Cup.
Al-Khelaifi cooperated with Swiss authorities in court, but according to a spokesman for the federal prosecution office the case will probably take “years, not just months” to conclude. While the likelihood of Al-Khelaifi’s conviction remains uncertain, international authorities will give much attention to the case after their successful 2015 conviction of fourteen FIFA executives guilty of corruption within the organization. But even if corruption in Qatar’s selection can be proven, infrastructure construction for the 2022 competition has already passed the point of no return, and it would be unimaginable for FIFA to change the 2022 Cup’s location based on the outcome of the investigation.
The report also expresses uncertainty due to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates’s (UAE) severing of ties with Qatar. This decision to sever ties came after the release of articles from a Qatari state run news organization, which reported Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as criticizing anti-Iranian sentiment among his people. Saudi leaders saw the articles as a sign of a growing relationship between Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main enemy in the region, and Qatar, which would threaten Saudi Arabia’s regional hegemony. Though Qatari officials quickly denied the statements made in the reports, citing the news agency as being hacked, Saudi Arabia did not accept the explanation.
The ramifications of Qatari isolation from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt creates immediate obstacles. The severance prohibits Qatari flights in the airspace of these neighboring countries, closes trade and travel across the borders of these nations, requires Qatari citizens residing in any of those countries to return to Qatar, and calls for the removal of diplomatic staff of the four outside countries from Qatar. In terms of the World Cup, this severance created fears of construction delay due to an inability to transport materials across borders. However, World Cup Supreme Committee Secretary-General Hassan al-Thawadi abated these fears by assuring alternative supply chains have been put in place and that any additional costs caused by separation “have been absorbed very, very quickly.”
The report claims several members of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee have threatened to resign, throwing the Qatar World Cup leadership in doubt. Frustration has spread throughout committee members over a lack of control over tournament spending after senior officials began unilaterally taking over decision processes usually handled by committee members. Other want to distance themselves from allegations of corruption. However, a statement released to the BBC by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy reiterated that, despite varying sentiments among committee members, there exists no risk for the future of the Middle East’s first World Cup.
Implications of the Report
Though the tournament will have to be played in the winter due to Qatari weather conditions, there are no other internal impediments to the country hosting: the nation’s current wealth has allowed Qatari businesses to handle contracting and management of the Cup while also hiring foreign workers to complete required infrastructure.
Further, the Supreme Committee sees the tournament as a way to counter extremism and reject terrorism. As a worldwide event in a region troubled by Islamist radicalism, the 2022 World Cup serves as a chance to alleviate the region’s reputation of instability and violence. The Committee views the report’s analysis as another attempt to further this instability and called its intentions “laughable.”
The report suggests that “any cancellation of Qatar hosting the World Cup 2022 will likely be abrupt.” A cancellation due to these circumstances would be an unprecedented action by FIFA. World Cup host selection has only been changed once in the eighty-seven-year history of the tournament: Colombia withdrew from hosting the 1986 World Cup due to financial insecurity four years before the event, resulting in Mexico as the newly selected location. No such financial trouble exists in Qatar and any increase in costs due to sanctions placed on Qatar from neighboring countries will not have detrimental effects. Further, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also confirmed the security of Qatar’s World Cup, stating that FIFA would not involve itself in the Middle East’s geopolitical situation.
In the current Middle Eastern Cold War, Iran remains an acute diplomatic touchpoint for Qatar and the surrounding countries. Ideologically, Saudi Arabia views the Shi’a leadership in Iran as its greatest enemy in the region, thereby making countries in any kind of associative support of Iran a Saudi adversary. While Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, denounces Iran’s support for certain terrorist groups, as well as its political and religious ideologies, the two countries share ownership of the world’s largest natural gas field, making their economic ties inseparable. Over the past five months since the separation, Qatar has grown even closer to Iran. In late June, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran will side with Qatar and that its skies, seas, and land will always be available to Qataris. Thani reinforced this sentiment by reiterating that the two countries will continue to cooperate and develop powerful bilateral relations.
Qatar, a nation the size of the state of Connecticut with the highest GDP per capita in the world, holds offices for many American and European owned companies thereby making it a foothold for Westerners in the Middle East. Bringing soccer, a sport central to European culture, to Qatar signals a shift in global perception surrounding the accessibility of the Middle East. Nonetheless, the tactless actions leading to the diplomatic crisis brings doubt to the region’s preparedness to step into the global economy as a reliable economic entity. The World Cup will act as a test for Qatar, not by demonstration of its ability to build stadiums and finance the event, but by showing its maturity in alleviating contentious foreign relations that outside countries view as worrisome. A World Cup that proceeds unaffected by political discourse in the region may aid in highlighting the Middle East’s rich culture and stifle the harmful stereotypes that have been created by media coverage of the region’s faults. However, failing to put political discourse aside for an event that should remain devoid of political interference could set the region back in its journey away from stigmatization.
Emma Dyer is a Staff Writer for The Gate. The image used in this article is licensed under the Creative Commons.