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Why Qatar will likely be stripped of the 2022 World Cup

When FIFA, the organizer of soccer's World Cup, announced in 2010 that Qatar would host the tournament in 2022, the decision was roundly mocked. Qatar had a tiny population, no history in international soccer, no domestic soccer league, no infrastructure to handle the massive crowds and the summer temperatures routinely above 110 degrees. British newspapers quickly accused Qatar of using its massive petroleum wealth to bribe FIFA's voters to gain the World Cup.

Four years later, FIFA is on the verge of stripping Qatar of the 2022 World Cup. FIFA has commissioned a broad investigation into allegations of corruption in the 2010 vote. Even before the results of FIFA's investigation were announced, Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam was accused by the Sunday Times Of London of paying millions of dollars in bribes.


A Qatari official stands near the FIFA World Cup trophy following its arrival in Doha.
Karim Jaafar | AFP | Getty Images
A Qatari official stands near the FIFA World Cup trophy following its arrival in Doha.

Qatar has been accused of massive human rights abuses of the guest workers who are building the infrastructure from scratch. Five of the six leading sponsors of the World Cup (adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Sony and Visa) have publicly demanded that FIFA expose and remedy any corruption. Only Emirates Airlines (based in nearby Dubai) has not joined the call to investigate how Qatar ended up winning the 2022 World Cup.

Just yesterday, Jorge Ramos, dean of ESPN's Spanish-language news team covering soccer, tweeted that FIFA had approached U.S. Soccer and advised them to have their organizing committee ready in case FIFA withdrew the 2022 World Cup from Qatar. Ramos has since deleted the tweet and U.S. Soccer has denied that any approach has been made, but the soccer world is abuzz with anticipation. It appears that all of the stars are lining up to move the tournament.

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The head of FIFA's corruption investigation is former U.S. prosecutor Michael Garcia, who led the investigation of corruption in Iraq's Oil-for-Food program during the George W. Bush administration. After an investigation that has taken over a year and has cost more than $10 million, he is scheduled to submit his findings and recommendations to FIFA in late July, one week after the conclusion of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The evidence against Qatar

The Sunday Times of London provided a preview of Garcia's report when it recently published the damning results of its independent investigation. Millions of emails and other documents revealed that Qatar's bin Hammam set up a multi-million dollar slush fund that made payments into accounts controlled by the presidents of 30 African soccer federations. Asian soccer officials received an additional $1.7 million in payments through bin Hammam.


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The investigation also uncovered secret negotiations for Qatar to enter a sweetheart natural gas agreement with Thailand in return for support for Qatar's World Cup bid.

The investigation also uncovered million-dollar payments to Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president who sat on its executive committee.


Qatar's other problems

It's too hot. Qatar bakes under 110-degree desert heat during the summer, when the World Cup is traditionally played. Those temperatures would be dangerous for spectators, and could be deadly for players.

Air conditioning is not feasible. Qatar's bid was predicated upon building ten air conditioned open-air stadiums that would reduce temperatures to a cool 78 degrees. It turns out that air-conditioning technology is inadequate for the job. Qatar now expects to build non-air-conditioned venues that use traditional fans to alleviate the heat. But the new plan would call for the playing surface to be a sweltering 87 degrees. Playing in similar temperature when the air conditioning broke in game one of the NBA Finals, Lebron James fell victim to violent cramps that kept him from playing the crucial final minutes of the game.

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter has already conceded that it was a "mistake" to plan to hold the 2022 World Cup during the summer in Qatar. His potential solution, moving the World Cup to November 2014, would create entirely new problems. The World Cup was always held during the summer so that it would not conflict with the European soccer leagues. In America, the World Cup would conflict with the NFL juggernaut.

Too many stadiums and training facilities need to be built. There is not a single World Cup sized soccer stadium in Qatar. Qatar initially planned to build 10 stadiums, at a total cost of $4 billion. Under budget pressure, Qatar has cut back planning to eight stadiums. In addition, it will need to build training venues for each of the 32 teams.

Too much infrastructure needs to be built. Qatar does not have the airports, ports, roads or mass transportation systems to handle the World Cup. It is planning to spend more than $40 billion building the infrastructure necessary.

Tiny population. Qatar has only 2 million residents and fewer than 300,000 citizens. The other 1.7 million residents are guest workers, largely poor manual laborers from Pakistan and India.

Massive human rights abuses. According to the International Labor Organization, Qatar's guest workers are horribly exploited by low wages, dangerous working conditions and sometimes outright slavery. Published reports estimate that at least 1,000 guest workers employed as part of the World Cup construction have died of heart attacks and other diseases.

Instability in the Middle East. One of the ostensible purposes of awarding the World Cup to Qatar was to expand soccer's popularity in Arab and Muslim countries. Since the World Cup was awarded in January 2010, those countries have been roiled by the Arab Spring, which led to revolution in Egypt (the most populous Arab country), Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and civil war in Syria. It is hard to imagine FIFA wanting to place its premier event into this cauldron.

The evidence of rampant corruption in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (and the insurmountable logistical problems with staging a soccer tournament in the summer desert heat) will almost certainly lead to a "re-vote." Particularly in light of the massive parallel investigations that have commanded headlines around the world, FIFA's investigation will have to acknowledge the massive misconduct.


Commentary by Mitchell Epner, an attorney specializing in white-collar crime, sports and entertainment law and intellectual property. He's also a former Assistant United States Attorney in the District of New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @mitchellepner.

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