FIFA not out of the desert ... yet
AN army of newly assigned lawyers are most anxious we draw a line just about literally in the sand. It is between the banning by Fifa of its former heavyweight player Mohamed bin Hammam and the fact that the absurd plan - a legally impeccable description, we have to submit, m’lud - to stage the 2022 World Cup in the desert enclave of Qatar, where, he has for many years been considered Mr Football, is proceeding.
Maybe we should be grateful to the learned gentlemen because it would have been so easy to make a connection between Bin Hammam’s distribution of cash-packed envelopes to prospective backers in his recently aborted challenge to Fifa president Sepp Blatter and the selection of Qatar above such rivals as the United States and Australia. Unhelpfully, though perhaps inevitably, this error has been most actively encouraged in some quarters.
While Bin Hammam, the pocket nation’s Fifa executive committee member and head of the Asian Football Federation, was officially removed from the Qatar bid, some are suggesting that in the corridors of decision he was in fact a significant element.
Indeed, the chairman of the Qatar bid described the multimillionaire businessman as “its biggest asset”. Damien Collins, a Conservative member of the parliamentary committee which recently grilled the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, declares: “There should be an investigation of his recent work. This could include his involvement in Qatar’s World Cup bid.”
The same point is made, though perhaps less dispassionately, by Peter Velappan, a staunch Blatter supporter who was secretary-general of the Asian federation for 29 years. He wants a probe into the voting process won by Qatar, saying: “All this comes as a package - the presidential election and the World Cup.” Maybe, but most certainly not, say the lawyers. This leaves us to speculate all over again on the wisdom of taking the World Cup, the greatest, most compelling sports event in the world, if Lord Coe will forgive the expression, to a place which - this month last year saw the final played on a wintry night in Johannesburg - is currently enjoying temperatures in excess of 40C, or, to put it another way, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity running somewhat in excess of 50 per cent.
The more you think about it - and we’ve had plenty of time since the decision came down last December - the more unreal is the idea of it.
There is no culture of football in Qatar, which is understandable because for most of the year the most pressing inclination is to crank up the air conditioning and stay indoors. There is no scenery beyond swathes of sand. The first landmark seen while flying quite some time out of Doha is an admittedly impressively symmetrical layout of gas storage tanks. This is not to insult Qatar, which no doubt has some admirable qualities even if you’re not crazy about the drinking laws and those which make gay rights seem like fantasy belonging to another planet, only to say that it is completely unsuitable as the host of the World Cup.
How did it happen if not through the greasing of grubby palms? Speculation can only exist, we have to remember, if Bin Hammam is not part of it.
Perhaps it really is as some, including Uefa president Michel Platini, have suggested. Maybe it is a genuine attempt to take the great festival of sport into new terrain, new dimensions. But then you think of one of the alternatives which would have genuinely met the same criteria: Australia.
Eleven years ago the Aussies made a superb job of staging the Olympics, having performed impressively back in another age in Melbourne in 1956. Here we are talking of a great sports nation which for so long has been a forerunner of development in so many disciplines and if you happened to be there when the Qatar decision came in - and the second Ashes Test was unfolding in the beautifully redesigned Adelaide Oval on exquisite days of sun and breeze - the degree of incomprehension remains unforgettable.
Australia not only failed in their bid, they suffered humiliation. Presumably, we can with great legal rectitude report that Down Under the reaction was not entirely devoid of the suspicion that Australia had lost in something rather less than a fair fight.
Fifa may believe it has survived the worst of its potential embarrassment with Blatter’s re-election by acclamation and imposing of pariah status on Bin Hammam and the long notorious Jack Warner of Trinidad. It may believe the hardest battles have been fought and the future, relatively speaking, has been assured on a platitudinous wave of good intentions.
It is, of course, gravely mistaken, whatever the lawyers advise. The worst, surely, is yet to come. It will accompany, quite relentlessly, every shred of evidence that the Qatar World Cup is not to be aborted at the first convenient opportunity. The more certain it becomes, the greater will be the disbelief - and the revulsion.
We’ve known for some time that Fifa is shot through with graft and the worst kind of political opportunism. Qatar, though, will provoke still another charge - one that says that in the end it went completely mad.