Are you sitting down? Good, because I have some crazy news: Qatar’s World Cup campaign may not have been completely on the up-and-up. According to The Sunday Times, Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup was aided by a “black operations” propaganda campaign. The UK paper published a report on Sunday detailing its investigation, which includes internal emails from a U.S.-based public relations firm that worked with the Qatar bid committee.
These revelations represent a “flagrant breach of the rules set down for bidding countries by FIFA,” according to the Sunday Times. FIFA is famously concerned with rules and is a stickler for honesty, so one can only imagine how soccer’s governing body will react to these developments.
According to the Sunday Times, the Qatar campaign sought “to create the impression that there was ‘zero support’ for the World Cup domestically” within its rival countries. One of FIFA’s criteria for awarding a World Cup is that the nations enjoy support for their bids at home.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy released a statement in response to the investigation, saying it “rejects each and every allegation put forward by The Sunday Times.”
An anonymous whistleblower leaked emails that are purportedly from the New York offices of Brown Lloyd Jones (now known as BLJ Worldwide), a communications company that had an $80,000-a-month contract with Qatar’s bid committee. One email allegedly sent by a BLJ president to a senior Qatar advisor in 2010 (the year of the FIFA vote) detailed “an extensive campaign to undermine the 2018/2022 candidacies of competitor countries, particularly Australia and the US.”
An excerpt from that email alleges that the firm “recruited a group of American physical education teachers to ask their US congressman to introduce legislation opposing the US World Cup on the grounds that the money spent on the football tournament can be better used on financing high school sports, which have suffered during the recession.”
Just days before the official FIFA vote in 2010, Politico published a story about a congressional resolution that was “aimed at throwing a wrench in the gears of the U.S. bid to host the 2022 World Cup.” Detroit Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick had introduced the resolution, ”Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the United States failure to fully fund K-12 physical education programs while instead lobbying to host international sports events.”
The Sunday Times’ report also includes information about how Qatar allegedly and surreptitiously paid an American professor who published a paper about the economic impracticability of hosting a World Cup. If that’s not juicy enough for you, “a team of ex-CIA agents is also said to have been employed to help disseminate propaganda against Qatar’s rivals.”
Feel free to add this to the list of reasons why Qatar maybe shouldn’t host the 2022 World Cup, alongside reports of the nation buying FIFA votes and allegations that it has been relying on slave labor to build its stadiums. Oh, and the tournament itself is going to take place in November and December because it’ll be too hot to play in the summer. Otherwise, preparations are going smoothly.