The government of Qatar, which won the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hired a high-profile public relations group and a team of former officers of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in order to undermine rival bids to host the tournament, according to a British newspaper.
In December 2010, Qatar was named as the host of the lucrative tournament, which is held every four years under the auspices of the International Federation of Association Football. In winning the right to host the tournament, the Middle Eastern oil kingdom beat formidable rival bids from Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States. FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has been heavily criticized –not least because it will take place in the winter, so as to avoid Qatar’s scorching summer temperatures. Many countries in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere will therefore have to resort to the highly unusual step of disrupting their domestic football seasons in order to send their national teams to compete in Qatar.
Now controversy over Qatar’s winning bid is likely to intensify following a claim by a leading British newspaper that the oil kingdom hired former CIA officers and public-relations specialists to discredit rival bids. According to the London-based Sunday Times newspaper, Qatar employed the public-relations firm Brown Lloyd Jones (now known as BLJ Worlwide) and a team of ex-CIA operatives. The Times said it had seen internal documents leaked by an unnamed whistleblower, which reveal the sinister nature of Qatar’s public-relations offensive. Much of it, said The Times, centered on propagating the view that World Cup bids by the United States and Australia would not be supported by the two countries’ domestic audiences. Organizations, academics, journalists and pressure groups from Australia and the United States, who were critical of their countries’ efforts to host the tournament, were clandestinely funded in order to promote their views. Additionally, BLJ and the former CIA operatives compiled intelligence folders on the leading figures of the rival countries’ bids.
If The Sunday Times’ allegations are correct, it would mean that Qatari authorities violated FIFA’s regulations for bidding to host tournaments. But last night the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar’s state-run group that organized the country’s World Cup bid, disimssed the newspaper’s accusations. Its spokesman rejected “each and every allegation put forward by The Sunday Times” and assured reporters that Qatar had “strictly adhered to all FIFA’s rules and regulations”.