FIFA criticizes German broadcasting partner over arrests in Qatar

FIFA's communications director Walter de Gregorio alleged that German network ARD distorted facts in a ''bashing'' of football's governing body.

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GENEVA —

FIFA has heavily criticized its broadcasting partner in Germany for a documentary about World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar that was aired after a reporter revealed his filming crew had been arrested in Doha and had footage and personal data deleted.

In an unusual outburst on Wednesday, FIFA’s communications director Walter de Gregorio alleged that German network ARD distorted facts in a ”bashing” of football’s governing body.

”Although the fact that a public-service broadcaster allows such a bashing is nothing new, it is astonishing nonetheless,” De Gregorio said in a statement published on FIFA’s website which ended by noting with apparent sarcasm: ”New standards in quality journalism funded by the taxpayer.”

De Gregorio alleged that the program broadcast on Monday, called ”Der verkaufte Fussball” ("The Selling of Football”), misreported a request FIFA that made to 2018 World Cup host Russia to modify labor legislation to benefit FIFA staff and tournament partners.

Still, the program and ARD got much wider international attention after reporter Florian Bauer revealed on his Twitter account that he and three colleagues were arrested in March as they were working without mandatory filming permits. They were interrogated by Qatari authorities and detained for five days before being allowed to leave the country.

Bauer told The Associated Press on Wednesday they were released only after Germany’s ambassador to Qatar intervened with the emirate’s foreign minister. Equipment including laptops and personal mobile phones were sent on weeks later with all data wiped, he said.

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”We actually might face court trial and we also might face an entry ban – both of which we could not accept,” Bauer said in a telephone interview.

The ARD team tried to report on working and living conditions for migrant workers in Qatar, and the slow pace of reforms promised by the government one year ago.

Bauer acknowledged that the team of three German citizens and one from India traveled to Qatar after weeks of official requests for permits being blocked or ignored.

”It looked like they want to hide something or want to prohibit us coming,” said Bauer, who made three previous trips to report in Qatar. The first was in October 2010, weeks before FIFA controversially chose the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.

Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Russia have been heavily scrutinized for how their bids backed by strong governments succeeded with a much-discredited FIFA executive committee, and for conservative legislation on migrant labor and social issues.

Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said arresting journalists usually ”means one thing: they want to shut you up.”

”The irony is that arresting a journalist will have exactly the opposite of the intended effect,” Warden told the AP on the sidelines of a European Parliament committee meeting in Brussels. ”It is going to send the message that the government of Qatar has something to hide.”

World Cup organizers in Qatar said filming permits were required in many countries, and that journalists working in Qatar ”understand filming in specific locations without permission runs the risk of legal repercussion.”

Though FIFA did not comment on Bauer’s experience, De Gregorio’s unexpected statement revealed frustration with a long-standing World Cup broadcaster.

”I am really surprised that he obviously, aggressively attacks on ARD,” said Bauer, who filmed only for the Qatari section of the program.