While there is no such thing as a sure thing, Qatar at 33/1 to host a World Cup could be the best long-odds bet you ever make. Preposterous? Idiotic?
I was recently going through some old boxes and I came across some of my older books. One in particular I remembered to be quite a good read was David Yallop’s How They Stole the Game.
“The book that the FIFA President tried to ban” is a tale of some unimaginable corruption at the highest levels in world football. My favourite was a Brazilian referee who paid $300,000 in back taxes. When asked how he had earned so much, he claimed to have earned over $1 million selling watermelons.
Yallop is a highly respected investigative journalist and author, and if even half of the claims – many of which he has confirmed from numerous sources – are true, then football is in a sad state indeed.
The book is particularly critical of former FIFA President Joao Havelange and his anointed successor, Sepp Blatter.
That Blatter used his power as General Secretary and didn’t declare his intention to run for the position as head honcho until four months out from the election particularly irked the author, who made some very interesting allegations against the Swiss.
“During the inaugural FIFA/Confederations Cup, a ten-day tournament that took place in Saudi Arabia in December 1997, the General Secretary of FIFA went missing for at least one of those days. Blatter left Riyadh for a secret visit to neighbouring Qatar.
“There he met in Doha the ruler of the country, Sheikh Hamad bin Khallifa Al-Thani. The Emir had seized power three years ago after deposing his father. Khallifa Al-Thani has a reputation as a moderniser, a man, anxious to open his country’s doors to Western investment. He has bought women into parliament and lifted press censorship.
“He has opened trade with Israel. This meeting with Blatter was not to discuss private innovations. The subject on the agenda was as old as man. Power and how to acquire it. The solution has been around for a while too. Buy it.
“I do not know what Blatter offered the Sheikh but I would not be surprised if there is a FIFA announcement in the near future that one of the many meaningless tournaments that the Havelange presidency gave birth to has been scheduled to be held in Qatar.”
He continues the allegations, noting how Blatter utilised the influence of President Chirac to aid his vote gathering before returning to the Qatari’s.
“The Emir also ordered his relations who control and run Qatar’s Football Association to do everything within their power to assist Blatter’s election.
“They began to pick up votes from both the African Confederation and from Asia. Qatar’s FIFA delegate, Mohammed Bin Hammam, who sits on the key FIFA Finance Committee, had an additional task.
“In the days leading up to the FIFA Congress Hammam functioned as procurer for Blatter. Positioning himself down in the lobby of the hotel, Hammam collared the delegates as they came and went. He extolled the virtues of Sepp Blatter. If he felt the delegates’ attention was wandering, Hammam talked of money. Allegedly he talked of offering $50,000 per vote.”
“How did they know Hammam could be trusted? Under the circumstances, an appropriate question. An undertaking was given that if Blatter was duly elected, courtesy of the Emir a plane would immediately leave Qatar with $1 million on board. The delegates were assured that they could then come to Hammam and collect their fifty thousand. The figure is not without significance. Between fifteen and twenty delegates were persuaded to exchange the white envelope containing their vote for another containing $50,000. If all of the Emir’s million dollars went in this manner, then the missing twenty votes from Johansson’s tally are accounted for.”
Blatter won the election and was voted in as a FIFA President, the vote count?
Blatter 111 – Johansson 90.
Yallop’s words, written in 1998 and published in ’99 have often been prophetic except for one aspect; FIFA are yet to announce a meaningless tournament in Qatar.
The gulf nation has hosted a few cups since the book was published, most notably the 2004 Gulf Cup of Nations, but nothing from FIFA.
And what of the Mohammed Bin Hammam that more-or-less assured Blatter’s election? The name will be familiar to many; he is now the AFC President who agreed to allow Australia to play their football as part of the Asian Federation – yes, one and the same.
Hammam now has a mighty big favour to call in and don’t think that just because it’s the World Cup it’s above corruption.
After all, how did Mexico manage to host two World Cup’s inside 16 years? Mexico’s own Rupert Murdoch, Emilo Azcárraga, allegedly befriended FIFA President Havelange and convinced him to confiscate the rights to World Cup 1986 and give them to Mexico, how much money changed hands is the only question that remains.
So Qatar, a country of 1.5 million which is hardly known for it’s footballing prowess and more for its vast oil reserves may have an ace up its sleeve which many have overlooked.
I for one wouldn’t be at all surprised to see World Cup 2022 being held in the stifling heat of Doha with Messer’s Blatter and Hammam bidding adieu to the football world, having achieved peace in the Middle East, at least on the pitch and all by FIFA’s motto; “For the game. For the world.”
David Yallop – How They Stole the Game, London: Poetic Publishing, 1999 – pages 291-293.