Return with us now to the sovereign Arab state of Qatar, home of artificial clouds, next-level stadium air-conditioning systems, and endless streams of petrodollars.
The tiny monarchy (citizen pop: 250,000) was also—according to a 15-page article published in France Football this week—home to a no-holds-barred approach when it came to convincing FIFA that its 2022 World Cup bid was the best one submitted.
Among the many allegations brought by the magazine is that there was a “secret meeting” at the French Presidential Palace on Nov 23, 2010, between then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, UEFA President Michel Platini, Sebastien Bazin, who was representing Colony Capital, the financially-troubled owners of Paris St. Germain at the time, and Tamin Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Crown Prince of Qatar.
The purpose of this meeting, according to France Football, was to discuss a deal for the Qataris to buy Paris St. Germain, and to challenge French sports TV channel Canal+ (something Sarkozy allegedly wanted to do) by creating a rival sports channel in France—all in exchange for Platini to promise to switch his vote for the 2022 World Cup from the United States to Qatar.
Explosive stuff. And of course if you cut to the present day, well, Qatar owns Paris St. Germain (and financed its massive summer spending spree, which brought Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to the club), and they’ve launched beIN Sport, a subsidiary of Al Jazeera, in France, wresting the television rights to live French soccer away from Canal+.
Platini, for his part, acknowledged that he voted for Qatar (the votes became public knowledge after the bid process was complete) and that he met with Sarkozy before the vote, but told Agence France-Presse:
“As I’ve always stated, president Sarkozy would never have asked me to vote for Qatar 2022 because he knows that I’m my own man. I made my choice with complete independence following a simple logic … opening up countries who have never organized major sporting events.”
In the annals of flimsy excuses, that’s got to rank pretty high. But we’ll have to take the French legend at his word, unless and until Michael Garcia, the former New York Federal prosecutor who now heads up FIFA’s new investigative arm, unearths a smoking gun of some kind.
AFP dredged other juicy bits from the France Football piece, including:
“… what [FF] said was an internal email in which FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke allegedly said that the tiny Gulf state had ‘bought the 2022 World Cup.’
Valcke subsequently claimed a misunderstanding and insisted that the tone of the email was ‘light-hearted.’ France Football also quoted former FIFA media chief Guido Tognoni, who was kicked out of the organization in 2003, as saying he believed there were “strong suspicions” that members were compromised over the 33.75-million-euro ($25 million) Qatari bid.”
Soccer America combed the report as well, coming up with the following further allegations:
• A Qatari representative offered to spend millions on pumping up ailing Argentine soccer to gain the vote of Argentine [Ex-Co member] Julio Grondona.
• Middle Eastern holding companies bankrolled deals struck by since-disgraced Brazilian soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira.
• A sweetheart deal was struck with the Spanish federation to organize a friendly game in Qatar and “silence” Angel Maria Villar, who supposedly had a vote-swapping pact with Qatar to back Spain’s 2018 World Cup bid with Portugal and was furious that in fact Russia won the 2018 contest easily.
• The Qatari sports agency Aspire spent millions on promoting youth sports in countries with members on FIFA’s executive committee.
Of course France Football’s report has not exactly blown the lid off anything yet. In fact, it probably hasn’t been accorded a fraction of the attention its publishers hoped for. But remember back in 1999, when a French sports journal (L’Equipe) first accused cyclist Lance Armstrong of doping? That didn’t get too much traction at the time, either.
World Cup 2022 is still nine years away.