With the country’s vast wealth at its disposal, Qatar spent heavily to convince FIFA to hand the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.
The World Cup bidding report published for the first time today highlights the unease of investigators looking into Qatar’s methods to win the vote but concluded there was no “evidence of any improper activity by the bid team.”
American attorney Michael Garcia did, however, find that some of Qatar’s conduct “may not have met the standards” required by FIFA.
Here are the investigation’s key findings, which Garcia said were uncovered mainly due to the bid’s co-operation:
While Garcia said it’s not “necessarily improper” for national leaders to be involved in bidding for a sporting event, one meeting by the then-Qatari emir did “raise concerns” for the lawyer. Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani met in Rio de Janeiro in January 2010 with a trio of South American voters: Julio Grondona, Nicolas Leoz, and Ricardo Teixeira. What troubled Garcia is that Grondona, before his death in 2014, failed to disclose the meeting to the investigators and discussion about Qatar potentially paying for flights.
More generally, Garcia finds “connections between government entities and the bid team have helped create an appearance of impropriety.” That stems from minutes of a bid committee meeting showing a discussion about circumventing some FIFA regulations on backing community projects by saying they could officially be arranged by embassies.
Garcia also finds that “suspicion has lingered that Qatar’s government financed various investment projects linked to executive committee members or their home countries” as a result of an e-mail that then-FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke sent to voter Jack Warner saying Qatar “bought” the World Cup. Valcke said it was not a “reference to any purchase of votes.”
Garcia flags up further “concerns over links between investment and commercial transactions by state controlled entities and bid team’s efforts.”
Garcia points to an adviser to Thailand’s soccer federation, whose leader was a FIFA voter, being involved in talks between a Thai gas company and Qatar over an energy deal with Doha. It was “inappropriate” for such a liquid nitrogen gas deal to be “negotiated through football channels” so close to the vote, Garcia said.
Then-Thai federation president Worawi Makudi “offered contradictory answers,” the report says, and “makes further inquiry necessary.”
Picking Qatar ultimately forced FIFA to move the tournament dates to November-December 2022 from the usual June-July slot to avoid searing summer desert heat.
The heat was never discussed in the executive committee meeting before the vote, not even by the voter who also served as FIFA medical chief, Michel D’Hooghe. Garcia found that the “failure to raise the health issue is especially glaring given his background and experience.”
Garcia claimed that D’Hooghe was already “compromised by his actions” over Qatar. That was because the Belgium doctor’s son was later employed by a Doha hospital linked to the Aspire sports academy, the report says, and the bid team was also arranging a business opportunity for a friend’s son ahead of the vote.
D’Hooghe was later cleared by FIFA’s ethics committee in 2015.
Moving the World Cup to the Qatari winter likely cost FIFA tens of millions of dollars from U.S. broadcasting deals.
Garcia’s report confirmed FIFA added 2026 rights to deals held by existing 2018-2022 broadcasters to evade threatened legal action.
Valcke told Garcia’s team that Fox’s contract was extended “in exchange for an undertaking not to act against FIFA should the 2022 World Cup be moved to winter.”
The price for Fox, Telemundo and Canada’s Bell Media was “what they pay for 2022 plus inflation costs,” Valcke told Garcia.
FIFA will earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region. The joint U.S.-Canada-Mexico bid is favored to win next year.
Garcia’s report states that the Aspire sports academy dedicated to training young players from Qatar and across Africa and Asia was used to “curry favor with executive committee members.”
This, Garcia added, “created the appearance of impropriety. Those actions served to undermine the integrity of the bidding process.”
For more than a decade before the vote, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was a power broker at FIFA and later a presidential candidate in 2011.
Hammam was removed from the election in a bribery scandal, then banned by FIFA for life in 2012 for mismanagement of Asian Football Confederation accounts, including payments to officials in Africa.
Although payments were made ahead of the World Cup vote, Garcia linked them to Bin Hammam’s future presidential bid.
The African officials did not have a say on World Cup hosts but voted like all FIFA members for their president.