Fifa lets Qatar 2022 sail on, its moral lines in the sand still on the horizon | Marina Hyde

War fears, deaths, slavery … the main lesson of the Garcia report appears to be that there is no conceivable dealbreaker that could derail Qatar’s World Cup

Thanks to the long overdue publication of the Garcia report into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, we now know that England’s efforts to secure the 2018 tournament amounted to “a form of bribery”. Obviously, the only thing less surprising than the fact that England break the rules is how bad they are at it. If an England bid team ever gets within 30 sniffs of actually winning a World Cup bid again, no effort should be spared in investigating how they do business. They are, in the words of pursed-lips grandmas, no better than they should be.

For now, however, England remain as likely to win a World Cup bid as they do to win a World Cup, and we must turn our thoughts to more pressing questions raised by the report by Fifa’s then chief ethics investigator. Namely – and I don’t mean any disrespect to the emir and his accidental vagina stadium – is the Qatar World Cup a thought experiment?

It is, after all, to be set in a region where imagineers build ski resorts in the desert and raise hotel citadels from the ocean and whatnot. Given the sheer volume and variety of red flags now raised over Qatar 2022, surely we should at least entertain the possibility that the entire event and its buildup is a highly sophisticated real time simulation that is specifically designed to tease out the moral boundaries of any number of authorities from Fifa to our own Football Association?

And you know … I don’t think we’re passing, here. I don’t think we’ve answered a lot of the questions in a manner pleasing to our notional moral philosophy professor.

The more we learn about the Qatar World Cup, the more we have to ask: what would it actually take? What would it actually take for Fifa and its president Gianni Infantino to say: it is possible we’ve dropped a bollock here? It is juuuuuust possible that the worst thing about a notional Qatar World Cup wasn’t the fact that the country is frequently more than 50 degrees in the summer and has as much genuine interest in football as your average Conservative sports minister. What would it take?

More than we’ve seen so far, is the rough answer. I mean, we’ve had the slave deaths. It was OK with the slave deaths. Despite the evidence, Fifa never demanded the end of the kafala system, wherein the rights of the migrant labourers working on Qatar infrastructure projects were abused, denied and the subject of intensely critical reports from the likes of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. This appears to have been a price Fifa was willing to pay. Not pay itself, obviously – they have some faceless, indentured help from the Philippines or Nepal or wherever to pay it for them. And we don’t know how many have paid it in the construction of the stadiums and the concomitant infrastructure because of Qatar’s secrecy about the actual figures, or studied indifference to even cataloguing them. But clearly, the tournament’s still on. The deaths were not a dealbreaker.

Given that, it’s no surprise to find the conditions in the migrant labourer camps weren’t either. Another straw that failed to break the camel’s back is this small, recent matter of the Saudi Arabia-led economic and diplomatic blockade of Qatar. Several weeks in, this dispute is deepening. Indeed, there are some sporting bodies that would read reports containing phrases such as “stockpiling food”, “licensed funding of terrorism” and “looming prospect of destabilising regional conflict” and wonder whether those weren’t vague warning signs as to the wisdom of locating your football contest there. But these people simply don’t have what it takes to work at Fifa.

There has been no meaningful comment on the gathering storm by Fifa – which is, I forgot to mention, sponsored by Qatar Airways (because no aspect of the modern sporting-industrial complex is considered a proper joke unless you’re really slapped round the head with it). What Fifa has done, instead of issue a statement saying it is seriously reviewing the location of its tournament, is issue a statement assuring people that construction is progressing rapidly on Qatar 2022 stadiums. Swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? Sure, there are rumblings of Middle Eastern war. On the plus side, though, the fanny stadium’s food court is on schedule.

So as indicated, these minor issues are not going to upset the 2022 apple cart, much less the gravy train. And now we’ve finally seen the confidential Garcia report, three years after it was publicly “summarised” so controversially by Fifa’s ethics judge, Joachim Eckert, that it prompted Garcia’s resignation.

We have learned that a former ExCo member congratulated members of the Qatari federation, thanking them for their “support” immediately after Qatar was awarded the 2022 tournament. A month later €300,000 found its way into his bank account. Other lowlights? The $2m paid, by an adviser to the Qatar bid, into the savings account of a then Fifa ExCo member’s 10‑year‑old daughter. The three voting ExCo members private‑jetted by the Qatari federation to a party in Rio. Money from the Aspire sports academy in Qatar being used to “curry favour” with voting Fifa members. On it goes. Garcia judged the Aspire actions “served to undermine the integrity of the bidding process”. Yet Eckert summarised that they “were not suited to compromise the integrity of the Fifa World Cup 2018 and 2022 bidding process”. To which the rational response is: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Compromise the what, sorry? The only bidding process with less integrity than any Fifa bidding process is the one between rival cartels for ownership of a rookie Mexican police officer.

And yet Qatar 2022 sails on regardless. What could possibly be Fifa’s line in the sand? Where does the useless Infantino draw the line? Pestilence? Actual war? You’d hope we might be close to finding out – but on the form book, you shouldn’t hold your breath.


Marina Hyde

The GuardianTramp

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