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.”