Qatar

Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images

Qatar still “in campaign mode” to prove worthiness of 2022 WC

Leave a comment

SHEFFIELD, England (AP) The birthplace of modern soccer is now an unassuming site: A couple of pitches with no stands for supporters, and a ramshackle indoor facility where damp rises on the walls and paint peels from the goalposts.

When Sheffield FC formed in this northern English steel city 160 years ago, the wealth awash in the modern game was unimaginable to the founders of the world’s first soccer club. The symbol of how vastly soccer has changed is thousands of miles away in the Gulf, where stadiums are springing up in the Qatari desert and tens of billions of dollars are invested in infrastructure to ensure a tiny nation can host the 32-team World Cup in 2022.

But Olive Grove, where the first rules of the modern game were conceived by Sheffield FC’s founders, was the latest stop this week for Qatar World Cup leader Hassan Al Thawadi on a mission to convince the global football community that his country remains a worthy host of the FIFA showpiece.

Seven years after the controversial vote and five years until kickoff, doubts linger about Qatar’s suitability and right to host the Middle East’s first World Cup.

“I believe we will always be in campaign mode,” Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, said at the self-styled “Home of Football” in an interview with The Associated Press. “Most host nations or host cities suffered from criticism.”

Perhaps, but none on the scale faced by Qatar, which was unprepared for the sharp scrutiny that followed victory in the secret ballot that took the game’s biggest showcase to the smallest country yet.

The greatest threat to Qatar’s hosting status initially came from corruption investigators, who were troubled by some of the bid conduct but ultimately found there was no improper activity that swayed the vote.

Censure came from labor watchdogs who believed a form of modern slavery formed the backbone of World Cup construction, and Qatar was compelled to safeguard rights and conditions for migrant workers. While progress has been made in a region unaccustomed to providing such protections, Qatar still faces demands to be more transparent about the cause of worker deaths and to eradicate exploitative practices like the “kafala” sponsorship system which binds workers to their employer.

“The World Cup is a catalyst and an engine for accelerated reforms,” Al Thawadi said.

Now more powerful forces are at play threatening the World Cup: Four Arab countries have severed diplomatic ties and placed Qatar under a blockade since June in a move claimed to stop the natural-gas-rich country from supporting terrorism – charges denied by Al Thawadi.

“For whoever may want to bring this World Cup into a political debate, that is an action that they are doing unilaterally,” he said.

However sure Al Thawadi is, the World Cup will be played as scheduled from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18 2022 – contentiously chosen by FIFA to avoid the fierce summer heat in the usual June-July slot – and he is clearly troubled by attempts to undermine the tournament.

A day after speaking to The AP in Sheffield, Al Thawadi ducked out of the royal box at Wembley Stadium in London just before watching England play Germany to launch a broadside against what he perceives as efforts by Qatar’s regional rivals to bring down the World Cup.

Dubai’s security chief has already said the only way to end “Qatar’s crisis” was to give up the event, though he later said he was referring to the financial impact of hosting. An Emirati minister followed up by tweeting that Qatar’s hosting of the tournament should “include a repudiation of policies supporting extremism & terrorism.”

Lobbying firms backed by the nations opposing Doha have increasingly targeted the World Cup, while Twitter has been promoting anonymous paid posts attacking Qatar’s fitness as a tournament host, citing corruption allegations and worker abuses.

“We refuse to have this World Cup used as political pawn or a political tool because we believe in separating politics from sports … and using sports as a means of resolving conflict,” Al Thawadi said in the Wembley library. “I hope that the blockading nations see reason to be able to participate and join for the sake of the region benefiting out of this World Cup.”

The crisis has exposed the scale of risks associated with taking the World Cup to a region in flux. Stadium costs are rising after Qatar was forced to find alternative routes to import building materials, and security concerns linger.

“You can’t always prepare for a specific incident, but you can always prepare with contingency plans and be ready with a very resourceful and very quick and effective reactionary mindset as well,” Al Thawadi said. “As soon as the blockade occurred, we were able to put Plan B and Plan C quickly in place and address some of the concerns and challenges that the blockade caused.”

Originally pitched to FIFA voters as a World Cup to benefit the Middle East, the idealism appears to have been sunk. The vision could potentially be revived by sharing games with neighbors, a proposition floated externally during the bid and still perceived as an objective in the region.

“Qatar has always been open to dialogue,” Al Thawadi said. “It’s always been open and it’s always supported our brother nations, to the extent that if (sharing the World Cup) was the ultimate goal, all that would have required was a simple conversation.”

For now, England is where Al Thawadi has come to speak to shore up support for his World Cup project.

An association with the trailblazing Sheffield FC, which plays eight divisions below the Premier League, might seem tenuous. But Al Thawadi studied law at the University of Sheffield and this week he returned after 16 years to finally collect his graduation certificate during a brief presentation.

Sheffield FC sought Qatar’s assistance because it was fighting for its future and being overlooked in a country that hosts the world’s richest soccer league. It started in 2009 while Al Thawadi was canvassing for FIFA votes in South Africa, and led in 2015 to 100,000 pounds (then $153,000) being invested by Al Thawadi to help the women’s team. Now Al Thawadi is trying to spur investment from across the English game to allow Sheffield FC to leave its base on the outskirts of the city and build a 6,000-seat venue and museum at its spiritual home at Olive Grove.

“Too often the money takes the lead with Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar,” Sheffield FC chairman Richard Tims said, discussing wealth in the modern game that saw the Brazil forward bought by the Qatar-owned French club for a world record 222 million euros in August. “This project is the other end of the game.”

Clubs are being asked to donate a sum corresponding with their foundation year, and it started with Premier League champion Chelsea agreeing to hand over 1,905 British pounds at a low-key event inside the rundown sports hall at Olive Grove.

Tims flattered his guests, proclaiming: “The new pioneers of football are Qatar.” Al Thawadi then sought to assure the small group of dignitaries that the backing for Sheffield FC is a sign of Qatar’s commitment to the wider game. It is not, Al Thawadi maintained in a later interview, about latching on to Sheffield FC to add a shiny veneer to Qatar’s battered image.

“Sheffield FC represents the start of football,” he said, “but more importantly represents playing football for the love of the game.”

Qatar, though, appears locked into a perpetual struggle, requiring charm offensives like the trip to England to protect its status as 2022 hosts.

“If it means we have to continue every day validating our right to host this World Cup,” Al Thawadi said, “so be it.”

2022 World Cup head tells Germany: Qatar doesn’t back terror

Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SHEFFIELD, England (AP) The organizers of the 2022 World Cup have a message for Germany’s soccer leadership ahead of a meeting on Friday: Qatar does not support terrorism.

[ MORE: MLS provides update on Beckham’s Miami franchise ]

While discussing Qatar’s right to host the FIFA showpiece, German soccer federation president Reinhard Grindel said earlier this year that tournaments “cannot be played in countries that actively support terror.”

When Germany plays England at Wembley Stadium on Friday, Grindel is due to come face-to-face with Hassan Al Thawadi, general secretary of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee.

“Qatar does not support terrorism,” Al Thawadi told The Associated Press on Thursday when asked about Grindel’s comments. “Qatar is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism on the ground. It’s one of the main partners in the coalition fighting ISIS (the Islamic State group).

“But more importantly, the state of Qatar has committed to stop the supply of terror at the roots through initiatives such as education, empowerment, creating economic opportunities for people to ensure that they don’t follow down the path on the way to terrorism – and that isn’t what the state of Qatar stands for.”

Al Thawadi maintained he has a “great relationship with Grindel,” who discussed Qatar’s suitability to host the World Cup after the boycott of Qatar began in June by neighboring who accuse it of funding extremists.

Grindel has also been concerned about conditions for the migrant workforce that the tiny natural gas-rich emirate is relying on to rapidly expand infrastructure, spending tens of billions of dollars to host the first World Cup in the Middle East.

Qatar has been buoyed by the United Nations labor agency ending a potential investigation after looking into whether the nation was observing the Forced Labor Convention. The ILO still plans to monitor Qatar’s progress in ending the “kafala” sponsorship system which binds workers to their employer and ensuring the end of exploitative practices.

“Progress is being made,” Al Thawadi said in an interview during a visit to England. “The journey has not ended, there is still more to be done and we are committed towards that. We are welcoming anybody that has any constructive criticism and will assist us in that journey.”

FIFA was told by its own human rights advisory board to seek more details about deaths classified as “non-work related” and to apply more pressure on the Qatari government to accelerate changes.

In a report published Thursday, the board recommended that FIFA’s administration “actively explores ways to use its leverage to engage with the host government about the impact of the kafala system on migrant workers involved in World Cup construction.”

More AP World Cup coverage at http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

2022 World Cup head says Qatar doesn’t support terrorism

AP Photo / Rob Harris
Leave a comment

SHEFFIELD, England (AP) The organizers of the 2022 World Cup have a message for Germany’s soccer leadership ahead of a meeting on Friday: Qatar does not support terrorism.

While discussing Qatar’s right to host the FIFA showpiece, German soccer federation president Reinhard Grindel said earlier this year that tournaments “cannot be played in countries that actively support terror.”

[ MORE: N. Ireland reacts to PK call ]

When Germany plays England at Wembley Stadium on Friday, Grindel is due to come face-to-face with Hassan Al Thawadi, general secretary of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee.

Al Thawadi told The Associated Press on Thursday that “Qatar does not support terrorism. Qatar is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”

Al Thawadi maintains he has a “great relationship with Grindel,” whose comments about Qatar came after neighboring Middle East countries had severed ties, accusing it of funding extremists.

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

UAE official: Qatar review a must before 2022 World Cup

Getty Images
4 Comments

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) The Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs has commented on Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in light of the diplomatic crisis between Doha and four Arab nations.

Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “Qatar’s hosting of World Cup 2022 should include a repudiation of policies supporting extremism & terrorism. Doha should review its record.” Doha long has denied funding extremists.

Gargash’s comments come after a Dubai security official wrote on Twitter that the only way for “Qatar’s crisis” to end is if Doha gives up the tournament. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan later said his “personal analysis” of the financial pressure Doha faces in hosting the games had been misunderstood.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began its boycott of Qatar on June 5.