London: Qatar outbid rivals for 2022 FIFA World Cup by running a secret campaign to sabotage the prospects of its main competitors from the United States and Australia. The Qatar bid team even enlisted the services of former CIA agents and a PR agency to spread fake news about the US and Australia, according to documents leaked to The Sunday Times.
The smear campaign allegedly involved recruiting prominent figures to criticise the bids in their own countries, thus giving the impression they lacked support at home. The Sunday Times says it was passed emails by a whistleblower who worked with the Qatar bid team. FIFA rules clearly say that bidders must “refrain from making any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association which has expressed an interest in hosting and staging the competitions”.
According to the newspaper, the alleged clandestine campaign included paying a professor $9,000 (£6,900) to write a damning report on the economic cost of a World Cup in the US, recruiting journalists and bloggers to promote negative stories in American, Australian and international media, and organising grassroots protests at rugby matches in Australia. The leaked documents also revealed that a group of American PE teachers had been recruited to ask congressmen to oppose a World Cup on the grounds the money would be better spent on high school sports, the paper claimed.
Qatar won the right to stage the tournament in December 2010. Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup at the same time, beating three other bids, including that of England. In a statement Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said it “rejects each and every allegation put forward by the Sunday Times”. “We have been thoroughly investigated and have been forthcoming with all information related to our bid, including the official investigation led by US attorney Michael Garcia,” it said. A FIFA statement said “a thorough investigation was conducted by Michael Garcia and his conclusions are available in the report”, referring to the completed two-year inquiry.