Qatar rejects World Cup bid corruption claims

Fifa president Sepp Blatter says a whistleblower from Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid will be interviewed over allegations that bribes were paid to African voters. (AP)

Qatar on Monday welcomed an investigation into alleged corruption in its victorious 2022 World Cup bid but said the evidence put forward so far was false, unsubstantiated and coming from a whisteblower who is probably a former employee “with a significant axe to grind.”

Qatar has been on the defensive since the 'Sunday Times' submitted evidence to a British parliamentary inquiry earlier this month alleging that two African Fifa executives were paid $1.5 million in bribes to vote for Qatar’s successful 2022 bid in the December ballot. It has denied the allegations.

Since then, Fifa President Sepp Blatter said a former bid employee would be interviewed on Wednesday about the claims as part of its wider investigation into alleged corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

“The Bid Committee welcomes a thorough investigation into the allegations made against it,” the committee said in a statement. “However, such an investigation must surely only be carried out by a properly constituted body with due authority and independence where our side of the story can be heard. It is wholly inappropriate for any examination of the bid committee’s affairs to be based on unsubstantiated hearsay and inaccurate journalism.”

Qatar offered no fresh evidence to refute the claims and, instead, attempted to cast doubt on the 'Sunday Times' allegations, suggesting the methods it used to build the case calls into question the “credibility of the reporters, their motivations and extent to which ... the evidence in any way can be relied upon.”

The bid committee argued the allegations contain no first hand evidence of bribes and were based solely on heresay. It also criticised the use of undercover reporters posing as “corrupt representatives of the United States,” as well as testimony from one individual — Michel Zen Ruffinen — whom the bid says later retracted his claims as well as a whistleblower who is only trying to hurt the bid.

“We would caution anyone against placing reliance on uncorroborated statements made by an embittered ex-employee without a full and balanced understanding of that individual’s personal and professional circumstances,” the committee said. “Without knowing the identity of the alleged whistleblower, the details of the allegations made or the circumstances in which they have been made, it is impossible for the Bid Committee to respond to these allegations any further at this stage.”

In an often angry and defensive one-page statement, the bid committee went onto to complain about the British Parliament’s publishing of the allegations which it called “distressing, insulting and incomprehensible.”

It also the allegations are part of a long-running campaign by unnamed parties to undermine the bid which beat the United States in a five-nation race in December, despite concerns the Gulf nation was too small and the weather there too hot during the summer months.

“What is concerning and unfair is that there appear to be those who are unable to accept that a team from a country like Qatar could perform in this way and are ready — on the basis of no evidence — to assume the worst,” the bid committee wrote. “Qatar is excited at the prospect of hosting one of the world’s greatest sporting events and is determined to deliver a World Cup truly deserving of football fans around the world.”

Long before the corruption allegations emerged, questions were raised about the viability of Qatar’s bid. The Fifa inspection team, led by Chilean Harold Mayne-Nicholls, concluded that holding a World Cup in the desert nation would pose logistical problems and the summer heat could put players’ health at risk.
 
Mayne-Nicholls, in Qatar on Monday to speak at a stadium design and development conference, wouldn’t talk about the latest corruption allegations. But he insisted that neither he nor any members of the inspection committee ever received anything from Qatar nor did he receive “a single phone call or a single letter” pressuring the committee to either emphasise the positive or negative aspects of any of the bids.

“Nobody approached a single member of the inspection committee for nothing,” he said.
Mayne-Nicholls said he still has concerns about the heat in Qatar, but argued that authorities have the time and the ability to solve the problems and that it will host “a wonderful World Cup.”

He said the biggest hurdle will be keeping the stadiums and training facilities cool — when temperatures outdoors far exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) — and providing outlets for fans who are struggling to cope with the unbearable conditions.

“It’s the biggest challenge of the World Cup here. The cooling system. There is no doubt about it,” he told The Associated Press, referring to Qatar’s largely untested plans to build a state-of-the art, solar-powered cooling system that will keep stadium temperatures about 27 degrees C (81 degrees F).

Similar systems are planned for training facilities and fan zones.

“They will be able to build stadiums and hotels,” he said. “Now, you have to have a cooling system for fans and players. I’m sure they will be able to do it. They have 10 years to develop the system. Of course, it’s risky. We have never done it before. It’s a new technology coming to the games. That is always a risk.”

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