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Bin Hammam’s fall puts Qatar 2022 under scrutiny
The downfall of Mohamed bin Hammam has put Qatar’s surprise success in bidding to host the 2022 World Cup under fresh scrutiny. FIFA on Saturday banned bin Hammam for life from football for his role in a bribery scandal, making the Asian football president the most senior official convicted of corruption in the governing body’s 107-year history. The link between the fall from grace of bin Hammam, Qatar’s football powerbroker, and the 2022 World Cup may come naturally for Qatar’s critics.
But the prospect of dealing with two controversies is a daunting one for Qatar and the whole of the Gulf region where sport has been elevated to something akin to a national cause. Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and his fellow rulers around the Gulf toasted Qatar’s World Cup win as a “source of pride” for the entire Muslim world. Rulers of the region’s oil-rich states compete for vanity projects. Dubai boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper, while Abu Dhabi has a New York University campus and will soon be home to Louvre and Guggenheim art museums.
The competition between the Gulf’s deep-pocketed sheiks has been particularly fierce in sports with one oil-rich sheikdom trying to outdo the other in hosting a tennis or a golf tournament and luring A-list athletes to their desert fiefdoms. The World Cup is by far the biggest prize yet awarded to the Gulf. It is, however, in danger of being compromised.
The FIFA scandal unfolded just months after the 62-year-old bin Hammam helped secure for his tiny, but immensely rich country the world’s biggest sporting event after the Olympics. “The fact that he was a key figure in the bid could rub off on Qatar’s World Cup for sure,” said James Dorsey, a senior research fellow of the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. Managing bin Hammam’s quest to clear his name and waging an international campaign to prove the critics of Qatar 2022 wrong is a daunting task for any Gulf ruler, unaccustomed to being held accountable by anybody.
“It’s a tall order, let’s face it,” Dorsey said. The ruler’s dilemma: save a disgraced football official who helped win Qatar the World Cup or defend the World Cup from critics who claim his country was a poor choice to host the 2022 event. A lengthy legal fight by bin Hammam will not help divorce the bribery scandal from the World Cup, even though the Qatar bid has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
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