There were questions from the start. Indeed, even before the surprise choice of Qatar to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, there were rumblings about possible malfeasance. Barely six weeks before the deciding vote in 2010, two executives of football’s global governing body were suspended after undercover newspaper investigations apparently revealed attempts to sell support for money or favours. Since then, the swirl of accusations has continued, most notably in the evidence given by Lord Triesman, the chairman of England’s failed bid, to a parliamentary committee, in which he alleged that a whole string of Fifa executive committee members had made inappropriate requests during the negotiating process.
The latest claims are the most specific yet. According to another newspaper investigation, Jack Warner – the former vice-president of Fifa who resigned in 2011 following unrelated allegations of bribery – received around $1.2m from a Qatari company linked to the country’s World Cup bid, with additional payments to other members of his family taking the total up to around $2m. So serious are the claims that the FBI is reportedly investigating the purported transfers of funds through a bank in New York.
Qatar was certainly an unexpected winner, given the Gulf state’s 50C summer temperatures, restrictions on alcohol and intolerance of homosexuality. So insuperable a hurdle was the climate thought to be, in fact, Doha was not viewed as a serious contender when it announced its candidacy. Nor have the practical questions yet been satisfactorily answered. Despite the plan for special cooling systems in the stadiums being built for the tournament, it is widely expected that Fifa will decide to move the tournament to the winter for the first time, playing havoc with national leagues in the process.
Inconvenient as such issues may be, they do not by themselves argue for an alternative venue. The steady drumbeat of allegations of corruption, and with it the growing sense that the decision could have been made for financial rather than sporting reasons, is a different matter. It is not enough for the Qatari bid team to claim that it “strictly adhered to Fifa’s bidding regulations”, as it was quick to do in response to the latest charges regarding Mr Warner. Without swift and convincing answers, the option of re-running the bidding process should not be ruled out.