I suppose the appalling shock to the soul that was occasioned by the allegation that Qatar bribed its way to hosting the 2022 World Cup was exceeded only by the startling suggestion that it was Fifa’s African delegates who trousered nearly all of the illicit money on offer. Who’d have thought, huh? The money was doled out by the Qatari crook Mohammed Bin Hammam, according to leaked emails obtained by the Sunday Times.
Mo did not find bribing the Africans terribly difficult, it would seem. My favourite of the various requests for money from these venal and grasping and not terribly bright Third World panjandrums was that of a chap called Adam ‘Bomber’ Mthethwa, of Swaziland: ‘I am in dire need of finance in the region of $30,000. This arises from the fact that I have just retired from politics.’
If I were Izetta Wesley of Liberia, mind, I’d be a bit miffed by these latest revelations. ‘I am so happy that I have a brother and friend that I can always depend on,’ she gushed, before being passed just $10,000 as a sweetener. Maybe it’s because Izetta’s a woman and there was Arab sexism at work in the Qatari bung department; it was probably an affront to Mo that he had to deal with a woman at all.
Rather larger sums of money were paid to companies associated with the reliably revolting Caribbean football boss Jack Warner, who responded with the email: ‘Allah is great!’ He sure is.
I call Mo a ‘crook’, by the way, but ought to point out that he has never been convicted in any court of any crime, to my knowledge. However, he has twice been given life bans from any involvement in football by Fifa following revelations of ‘conflicts of interest’ during his tenure as president of the Asian Football Confederation. This is akin to the Mafia complaining that one of its members is too zealously psychopathic. The organisation is riven with corruption from top to bottom and there is a perfectly good case for saying that our home nations should withdraw from it entirely; our continued membership is a connivance with an institution which has been shown, repeatedly, to be bent, and which has not the slightest inclination to change its procedures.
We would be followed in this action by a good few European countries — although possibly not France, which is partially implicated in this scandal. The French boss of the European football association (Uefa), Michel Platini, has been criticised for his connections to Bin Hammam. Not long after the vote which awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the French club Paris St Germain was suddenly acquired by the state-owned Qatar Sports Investments. Though, hell, I’m sure it was a perfectly above-board deal.
But there is too much money to be made from international football for a principled withdrawal to be even considered by our own football authorities. And this despite the fact that two years ago, the former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman claimed in a parliamentary inquiry that the Fifa delegates had been up to their usual tricks ahead of voting for the right to hold the 2018 World Cup. The aforementioned Jack Warner asked for his usual vast bung, while Paraguay’s Fifa representative, Nicolas Leoz, said he’d make do with a knighthood, according to Triesman. Russia, that national paragon of probity and decency, won the 2018 bid, by the way, so you can expect Stephen Fry to be haranguing you about gay rights in the country in the run up to the tournament. I don’t suppose he’ll be much happier in 2022, mind.
I cannot imagine that anybody who watched the voting results which awarded Qatar the right to host the World Cup will have been so naive and gullible as to assume that this had been decided in an open, transparent and scrupulous manner. A tiny country with no footballing history which uses slave labour to build its stadia, expects women to attend matches dressed in the usual Islamic sackcloth and ashes, has a fairly appalling human rights record and will stage its games in the sort of searing summer heat that would make it a supreme effort merely to walk out onto the pitch, never mind kick a ball. What’s not to like about Qatar, Fifa asked, presumably rhetorically.
I think it’s fair to say that all of us knew, back then, that the process had been corrupt: it is hard to think of a less amenable location for a football tournament than this arid, desert satrapy, apart from maybe Waziristan. There were complaints at the time from the UK footballing bodies; but not enough complaints, and they were complaints tainted with politeness. There is a sense, then, that football gets what it deserves and that the tournament should be allowed to go ahead in Qatar (as it probably will). That’s what membership of Fifa, in its present incarnation, leads to — a bought deal and a competition hosted in a country where football is virtually unplayable.
And so it will continue, with the African and Caribbean delegates bought by the least scrupulous bidder every time there is a vote. It’s time to get the hell out of it. But we won’t.