Qatar 2022 bid hits back at corruption claims

Qatar on Monday welcomed an investigation into alleged
corruption in its victorious 2022 World Cup bid but said the
evidence put forward so far was false, unsubstantiated and coming
from a whisteblower who is probably a former employee ”with a
significant axe to grind.”

Qatar has been on the defensive since the Sunday Times submitted
evidence to a British parliamentary inquiry earlier this month
alleging that two African FIFA executives were paid $1.5 million in
bribes to vote for Qatar’s successful 2022 bid in the December
ballot. It has denied the allegations.

Since then, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said a former bid
employee would be interviewed Wednesday about the claims as part of
its wider investigation into alleged corruption in the bidding
process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

”The Bid Committee welcomes a thorough investigation into the
allegations made against it,” the committee said in a statement.
”However, such an investigation must surely only be carried out by
a properly constituted body with due authority and independence
where our side of the story can be heard. It is wholly
inappropriate for any examination of the bid committee’s affairs to
be based on unsubstantiated hearsay and inaccurate
journalism.”

Qatar offered no fresh evidence to refute the claims and,
instead, attempted to cast doubt on the Sunday Times allegations,
suggesting the methods it used to build the case calls into
question the ”credibility of the reporters, their motivations and
extent to which … the evidence in any way can be relied
upon.”

The bid committee argued the allegations contain no first hand
evidence of bribes and were based solely on heresay. It also
criticized the use of undercover reporters posing as ”corrupt
representatives of the United States,” as well as testimony from
one individual – Michel Zen Ruffinen – whom the bid says later
retracted his claims as well as a whistleblower who is only trying
to hurt the bid.

”We would caution anyone against placing reliance on
uncorroborated statements made by an embittered ex-employee without
a full and balanced understanding of that individual’s personal and
professional circumstances,” the committee said. ”Without knowing
the identity of the alleged whistleblower, the details of the
allegations made or the circumstances in which they have been made,
it is impossible for the Bid Committee to respond to these
allegations any further at this stage.”

In an often angry and defensive one-page statement, the bid
committee went onto to complain about the British Parliament’s
publishing of the allegations which it called ”distressing,
insulting and incomprehensible.”

It also the allegations are part of a long-running campaign by
unnamed parties to undermine the bid which beat the United States
in a five-nation race in December, despite concerns the Gulf nation
was too small and the weather there too hot during the summer
months.

”What is concerning and unfair is that there appear to be those
who are unable to accept that a team from a country like Qatar
could perform in this way and are ready – on the basis of no
evidence – to assume the worst,” the bid committee wrote. ”Qatar
is excited at the prospect of hosting one of the world’s greatest
sporting events and is determined to deliver a World Cup truly
deserving of football fans around the world.”

Long before the corruption allegations emerged, questions were
raised about the viability of Qatar’s bid. The FIFA inspection
team, led by Chilean Harold Mayne-Nicholls, concluded that holding
a World Cup in the desert nation would pose logistical problems and
the summer heat could put players’ health at risk.

Mayne-Nicholls, in Qatar Monday to speak at a stadium design and
development conference, wouldn’t talk about the latest corruption
allegations. But he insisted that neither he nor any members of the
inspection committee ever received anything from Qatar nor did he
receive ”a single phone call or a single letter” pressuring the
committee to either emphasize the positive or negative aspects of
any of the bids.

”Nobody approached a single member of the inspection committee
for nothing,” he said.

Mayne-Nicholls said he still has concerns about the heat in
Qatar, but argued that authorities have the time and the ability to
solve the problems and that it will host ”a wonderful World Cup.”
He said the biggest hurdle will be keeping the stadiums and
training facilities cool – when temperatures outdoors far exceed 40
degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) – and providing outlets for fans
who are struggling to cope with the unbearable conditions.

”It’s the biggest challenge of the World Cup here. The cooling
system. There is no doubt about it,” he told The Associated Press,
referring to Qatar’s largely untested plans to build a state-of-the
art, solar-powered cooling system that will keep stadium
temperatures about 27 degrees C (81 degrees F). Similar systems are
planned for training facilities and fan zones.

”They will be able to build stadiums and hotels,” he said.
”Now, you have to have a cooling system for fans and players. I’m
sure they will be able to do it. They have 10 years to develop the
system. Of course, it’s risky. We have never done it before. It’s a
new technology coming to the games. That is always a risk.”