Qatar ran a “black ops” campaign to sabotage rival bids ahead of being awarded the 2022 World Cup, according to a whistleblower speaking to the Sunday Times.
The bombshell report claims England, the U.S. and Australia were all victims of a coordinated dirty tricks campaign.
The whistleblower, who worked with the Qatari team on their World Cup bid, leaked sensitive emails to the newspaper that details smear tactics orchestrated by a New York-based public relations firm and involving former CIA agents.
Among the most damning claims, the report alleges that the Qatari team paid a professor $9,000 to author a negative report on the economic cost of hosting the tournament in the U.S., while also recruiting journalists and bloggers to promote negative stories from within U.S. media.
World governing body FIFA explicitly prohibits any bidding country from making “any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association.”
In a statement published Sunday, the Qatari Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said it “rejects each and every allegation put forward by The Sunday Times.”
U.K. lawmaker Damian Collins, who met the whistleblower last month, called for FIFA to look at the new allegations. “I think these are serious matters and there needs to be a proper independent investigation of them,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
This is just the latest scandal to hit the Qatari campaign and has once again led to calls for FIFA to look at how the prestigious tournament was awarded to the Middle Eastern country.
What was the “black ops” campaign?
According to the leaked emails, a secret campaign to gather dirt, create controversy and disseminate negative publicity, was coordinated in the Manhattan offices of PR agency Brown Lloyd James (BLJ), who secured lucrative contracts worth $80,000 a month from the Qatari World Cup bid.
“For the past four months we have undertaken an extensive campaign to undermine the 2018/2022 candidacies of competitor countries, particularly Australia, and the U.S.” BJP president Michael Holtzman said in an email titled “Strategy” and sent to Ahmad Nimeh, a senior advisor employed by the Qatari team. The email was sent in May 2010, seven months before the FIFA committee would vote on who would host the World Cup.
Holtzman had previously worked to help burnish the image of Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad and former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The email details the lengths the Qatari team and its PR company were willing to go to in order to secure votes. As well as employing PR professionals, the emails revealed that a number of former CIA operatives were engaged to conduct due diligence work.
Professor Dennis Coates, an economist from Maryland University, has admitted to accepting $9,000 to write a 23-page report that concluded that “U.S. taxpayers are better off saying no to an expensive and secretive World Cup bid.”
The Qatari team also engaged U.S. lobbying groups and politicians to help them undermine the U.S. bid, and they even recruited a group of American gym teachers to try and persuade their local lawmakers to stop the World Cup bid, arguing the money would be better spent on teaching resources.
One more scandal
These allegations are just the latest scandal to hit the 2022 World Cup.
FIFA has already investigated corruption allegations — also revealed by the Sunday Times — involving the Qatar bid, in which it is alleged that Doha made payments to football officials in return for votes. The investigation concluded there was no evidence Qatar had bought votes so the tournament would go ahead as planned.
Qatar was a strange choice from the beginning, given its lack of soccer heritage and the fact that temperatures in the country can reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer.
Despite the country’s promise to build air-conditioned stadiums, the organizing committee announced earlier this month that the World Cup would be run in November and December for the first time, a controversial move which will significantly impact soccer leagues across the world.
The bid has also been hit by allegations that the migrant workers constructing the event’s infrastructure are treated in slave-like conditions — being denied food and water, having their identity papers taken away from them, and not being paid on time or at all. One report suggested that as a result of lax security and safety, as many as 4,000 workers could die while preparing for the tournament.
Cover image: Workers seen at the construction site of Lusail Iconic Stadium, a venue for 2022 FIFA World Cup football matches. (Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)