DOHA (Reuters) - Qataris reacted angrily to claims the country paid for its right to host the 2022 World Cup tournament, in stark contrast to the massive celebrations seen in Doha’s streets after news of their winning bid last December.
The controversy erupted after a leaked email from FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke suggested Qatar had “bought” the rights, which he denied on Monday.
“I think there is some dirty politics in this. A few years ago, no one knew Qatar. Now after the win, the big countries like England and others are jealous,” said Ali Al Badr, 50.
Qatar would be the first Arab country to host the world’s largest soccer tournament, and the news of the victorious bid in December 2010 also triggered elation across the Arab world.
The tiny Gulf Arab state, massively wealthy thanks to copious natural gas reserves, will spend about $65 billion preparing for the tournament, according to estimates.
“If this is really true, why didn’t we hear it before?” said Omar al-Emadi, 27. “This is about the West’s perception of Qatar. They think we still ride camels.”
Qatar will be the smallest host nation to stage the finals since Uruguay hosted the first World Cup in 1930. The country plans to harness solar-powered technology to cool the match venues to about 27 Celsius to overcome crippling summer temperatures that can soar to above 50 degrees Celsius.
Valcke confirmed he had sent an email to vice-president Jack Warner in which he questioned Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam’s decision to stand against Sepp Blatter in the FIFA presidential election, suggesting Qatar had paid for the rights. But Valcke denied suggesting it was bribery, instead saying the country used its financial muscle to lobby for support.
“They are saying this because they don’t want us to have the World Cup,” said 16 year-old Qatari Bader Al Otabi.
Qatar’s bid committee on Monday also categorically denied any wrong-doing in connection with the winning bid.
Before the vote in December, Qatar’s $4 billion bid for the tournament was dismissed by many as unrealistic given the country’s conservative social mores and lack of soccer culture.
“The Emir is not corrupt like other Arab politicians,” said another Qatari in his 20s. “He watched the whole process carefully.”
Editing by Reed Stevenson