Cor­rup­tion probe puts Qatar’s in­flu­ence un­der the spot­light

China Daily - - SPORTS -

DOHA — Thurs­day’s bomb­shell an­nounce­ment that the Swiss are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Qatar’s Nasser Al-Khe­laifi and a dis­graced for­mer se­nior FIFA ex­ec­u­tive on cor­rup­tion charges places the emi­rate and world soc­cer back un­der scru­tiny.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are ex­am­in­ing al­le­ga­tions of bribery sur­round­ing Al-Khe­laifi, head of Doha-based beIN Me­dia Group, and ex-FIFA sec­re­tary gen­eral Jerome Val­cke over the sale of World Cup me­dia rights for soc­cer’s flag­ship tour­na­ment.

“It is sus­pected that Jerome Val­cke ac­cepted un­due ad­van­tages from a busi­ness­man in the sports rights sec­tor in con­nec­tion with the award of me­dia rights for cer­tain coun­tries at the FIFA World Cups in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 and from Nasser al-Khe­laifi in con­nec­tion with the award of me­dia rights for cer­tain coun­tries at the FIFA World Cups in 2026 and 2030,” read a state­ment from the Swiss at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

The Qatar broad­caster strongly de­nied the claims.

“BeIN Me­dia Group re­futes all ac­cu­sa­tions made by the OAG (Switzer­land’s at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice),” it said in a state­ment.

Although the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is bad news for high-pro­file PSG chair­man Al-Khe­laifi, thought cur­rently to be in Qatar, it is highly un­likely the fall­out will be con­tained him and Val­cke.

Scru­tiny of FIFA and Qatar will in­ten­sify as a re­sult, say ex­perts.

“In iso­la­tion, it would be easy to ex­plain to­day’s de­vel­op­ments as be­ing yet another ex­am­ple of an al­legedly du­bi­ous prac­tice in a sport char­ac­ter­ized by an end­less flow of mis­de­meanors,” said Si­mon Chad­wick, pro­fes­sor of sports en­ter­prise at Bri­tain’s Sal­ford Uni­ver­sity.

“How­ever, this is not an iso­lated in­ci­dent, and forms part of an on­go­ing nar­ra­tive that has built up around both FIFA and Qatar.”

World soc­cer is still deal­ing with the fall­out from the events of 2015 when FIFA of­fi­cials were ar­rested en masse at the gov­ern­ing body’s an­nual con­fer­ence.

And Qatar also re­mains at the cen­ter of the storm en­gulf­ing the sport.

The news from Geneva to caps a tu­mul­tuous few days, weeks and months for Qatar.

Po­lit­i­cal in­trigue

Long used to deny­ing graft al­le­ga­tions over its suc­cess­ful bid for the 2022 tour­na­ment — which Qatar has done nu­mer­ous times — the Gulf state has been pre­sented with a far dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges since June 5, since the re­gional di­plo­matic cri­sis be­gan.

The di­plo­matic iso­la­tion of Doha fol­low­ing the block­ade an­nounced by neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates has im­pacted in al­most unimag­in­able ways.

And con­sid­er­ing Al-Khe­laifi is a ten­nis-play­ing friend of the coun­try’s Emir (head of state), Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad al-Thani, Thurs­day’s news places its pol­icy of di­plo­matic soft power un­der the spot­light.

Qatar has been enor­mously am­bi­tious and suc­cess­ful in us­ing soft power through sport and the me­dia — beIN also owns Hol­ly­wood’s Mi­ra­max com­pany, for ex­am­ple — to pro­mote it­self on the world stage.

That strat­egy is in­creas­ingly un­der at­tack.

Ear­lier this week, Doha’s gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fice took the un­prece­dented step of stat­ing the 2022 World Cup “was not up for ne­go­ti­a­tion” af­ter claims it could be taken from Qatar be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

BeIN has also found it­self tar­geted dur­ing the cri­sis across the Gulf where it is a ma­jor sports broad­caster, with TV pro­grams blocked.

“This de­vel­op­ment is set against a back­drop of an in­tense, and an in­creas­ingly frac­tious feud,” Chad­wick told AFP.

“Hence, the tim­ing and na­ture of al­le­ga­tions be­ing made against Al-Khe­laifi is sus­pi­cious.

“One sus­pects it could be part of an on­go­ing in­for­ma­tion war be­ing waged by Gulf ri­vals.”

Prob­a­bly the great­est ex­am­ple of soft power was the world-record trans­fer of Brazil­ian su­per­star Ney­mar to PSG, suc­cess­fully over­seen by Khe­laifi ear­lier this year.

Now though, Qatar may have over­reached with that pol­icy.

REUTERS

The sale of World Cup me­dia rights to Qatari-owned beIN Sports is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Swiss au­thor­i­ties.

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