One of the most enduring joys of Twitter, besides that Vine of the man being hit in the face with the handstand throw-in, is the sight of a meaty celebrity spat. This week’s skirmish between Gary Lineker and Richard Keys certainly didn’t disappoint.
Lineker, speaking to mens’ magazine GQ, hit out at FIFA, Sepp Blatter and the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Keys swiftly struck back, pointing out that Lineker couldn’t complain about Qatar because he had once worked there. As counter-attacks go, it wasn’t particularly effective. As Lineker sensibly retorted, he disagrees with many aspects of life in the UK, but no-one would see that as a reason not to work for the BBC.
Keys, who stuck around to fight it out with all comers, was certainly right later when he argued about the problems inherent in the ‘populist opinion’ and ‘hysteria’ that surrounds the Qatar bid. The constant news cycle, online and offline, can pound some issues into the consciousness so hard that any desire to re-examine the facts is lost. With that in mind, let’s have a quick review of what we know.
Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup despite the absence of a large population, a suitable climate, an existing infrastructure, a notable national league, a viable future for expansion or indeed any of the factors usually considered crucial for a World Cup host.
The only pro-Qatar argument that held water, and God knows, we’ll need as much of that as we can get when the mercury hits 50 degrees, is that the region has never hosted a World Cup before. This, however, is an argument that many regions can make, Australia most pertinently because Australia has all of those factors usually considered crucial for a World Cup host.
The Qatar 2022 bid committee denies any wrong-doing in the 2010 bidding process. Qatar’s former FIFA vice-president Mohamed bin Hammam was banned from football by FIFA in 2011 for corruption. Bin Hammam has since been accused by The Sunday Times of working secretly for the Qatar 2022 bid committee, offering bribes in exchange for support. Both he and the bid committee deny those allegations.
Twenty two men sat on the committee that chose to award the World Cup to Qatar. Ten have since been accused or exposed of corruption. Two more were rooted out even before the vote took place after they were discovered to have taken bribes.
FIFA will make no comment on any allegations until the publication of a report into possible ethics violations in September. In July, FIFA confirmed that the contents of that report, commissioned by FIFA and overseen by FIFA-appointed investigator Michael Garcia, will be revealed only to FIFA. It will not be made public. Only the final decision will be announced.
So, when it comes to talk of corruption within FIFA, I guess what we’re saying is; there’s a chance.
Keys’ popularity has taken a dip since the days when his colourful blazers and easy-going, golf club charm ruled the airwaves, but that shouldn’t mean we ignore his remarks. We all know and condemn what he did, but he is still worthy of a certain degree of respect. It must take remarkable self-belief to come through a media storm of the ferocity he endured in 2011 and emerge the other side still as buoyant as ever. Far from destroying him, his troubles have led him to a prime job on one of the world’s largest networks. It’s hardly surprising that he’s grateful to his new employers, nor that he seeks to defend his new home.
Besides, Qatar is a wonderful place when you’ve got money. Air conditioned taxicabs whisk you down shiny highways to air conditioned bars where you can cut loose with as much freedom as you’d find at home. As long as those lines of miserable and impoverished jumpsuit-clad migrant workers don’t bother you, it’s party time all the time.
Nevertheless, it was sad to see Keys adopting the infuriating argument that England’s opposition to Qatar was borne out of their own failure during the bidding process. This ‘Don’t mind them, they’re bitter,’ line has been key to FIFA loyalists, muddying the waters to such an extent that some people seem to forget England weren’t up against Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. England missed out to Russia in the race for the 2018 tournament.
Though now more than ever, there is a recognition of the…erm…issues of hosting the tournament in that part of the world, most English supporters recognised at the time that Russia is a nation with a proud footballing history, a thriving league, an excellent existing infrastructure and the capacity for growth in the future. All of those factors usually considered crucial for a World Cup host. All of those factors that Qatar lacked in 2010.
Even four years on, the decision to award the World Cup to an utterly unsuitable, but immensely rich desert state just doesn’t add up. It never added up. You can understand why Keys, comfortable and successful in Doha, is reluctant to admit it, but something stinks at FIFA and Lineker is absolutely right to hold his nose.
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