PARIS/DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar said on Wednesday there was no way it would be stripped of the right to host the World Cup despite the corruption scandal surrounding FIFA, dismissing a “bashing campaign” of criticism of its 2022 bid as anti-Arab prejudice.
Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said Qatar would one day show “who is behind this campaign against Qatar”, suggesting the country was being unfairly targeted over allegations of graft in the vote that won it the Cup, and of abuse of migrant workers.
“It is very difficult for some to digest that an Arab Islamic country has this tournament, as if this right can’t be for an Arab state,” he told Reuters in an interview in Paris a day after Sepp Blatter’s resignation as FIFA president.
“I believe it is because of prejudice and racism that we have this bashing campaign against Qatar,” he added.
U.S. prosecutors stunned international soccer last week by indicting 14 senior administrators and business figures over what they say was a pattern of bribery and corruption in the sport. A U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters on Wednesday that the investigation would also look into the bidding that awarded the Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
Switzerland has also launched a criminal investigation into the Russia and Qatar bids. Blatter announced on Tuesday he would resign, just four days after securing re-election.
Russia and Qatar have both strongly denied wrongdoing to secure their bids.
The decision to host the Cup in Qatar drew particular notice because the country is far smaller than any other that has hosted a soccer World Cup, has little domestic soccer tradition and is subject to extreme heat in the summer when the tournament is traditionally played. Domestic leagues around the world and broadcasters will have to rip up their schedules if the Cup is played in cooler months.
Most of Qatar’s workforce is made up of foreign migrant labourers, and international human rights groups have raised questions about the treatment of those employed to build World Cup venues. Qatar denies workers are mistreated and says it has improved its safeguards since winning the right to host the cup.
When asked if Qatar could lose the right to host the tournament, Al-Attiyah said: “No way Qatar can be stripped (of it). We are confident of the procedures and deserve to win it because we presented the best file.”
He also said Qatar would be able to prove it had done no wrong when the time came.
Attiyah’s comments echoed a mood of exasperation and defiance in Doha, where a feeling that Qatar was being made a scapegoat has only deepened with Blatter’s resignation.
“They’re being racist in every sense of the word,” Majid Khulaifi, editor of Estad al-Doha newspaper, said on his Twitter account.
“The West should know that if it belittles Qatar and its right to organise (the cup), it’s belittling every single Arab state.”
Hassan Homoud, a Qatari from the town of Wakra, said on Twitter that up until the 2022 event “there’s going to be a permanent attack on us from the West on racial grounds with the help of some of their Arab pawns. Blatter’s resignation is not going to be the last chapter.”
Sponsors have made little secret that they would rather the Cup were held elsewhere. Andrew Woodward, sports marketing consultant and former global lead of Visa Inc’s brand and sponsorship communication, said Qatar’s 2022 event was a “a disaster on so many fronts”.
“The public, media, football family and sponsors will demand action. There are the serious questions about the bidding process; the venue construction program is killing many workers and the integrity of the game is at stake with poor scheduling and a way less than optimal player and spectator experience.”
Qatar denies any worker has died on its Cup construction projects.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, president of the Qatar Football Association and a member of the ruling family, said that no charges had been found against Qatar in an investigation conducted by Michael Garcia, a former U.S. prosecutor hired by FIFA to look into the bids.
Garcia’s report has never been published. FIFA issued a summary that exonerated both Qatar and Russia, but Garcia quit, saying the summary mischaracterised his report.
After Blatter stepped down, Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association, said: “If I were Qatar right now I wouldn’t be feeling very comfortable.”
Sheikh Hamad’s response was curt.
“Mr Dyke’s instinct to focus immediately on stripping Qatar of the World Cup speaks volumes,” he said in a statement. “We would urge Mr Dyke to let the legal process take its course and concentrate on delivering his promise to build an England team capable of winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.”
Additional reporting by Noah Browning; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff