Qatar dismissed new allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup as they basked in strong support from FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and Asian football officials.
Qatar 2022 communications chief Nasser Al Khater said “reader fatigue” was setting in after a British newspaper printed fresh claims of vote-buying by 2018 hosts Russia and the wealthy Gulf state.
He said it was telling that the Sunday Times sought parliamentary privilege, a defence against libel, before publishing unproven claims it says were secretly compiled by Britain’s bid team for the 2018 event.
“What I understand is that they went to parliament before publishing, to get parliamentary privilege,” Al Khater said at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) awards in Manila late on Sunday.
“I guess that tells you the story… there’s a story that came up but they went to the select committee in parliament, so already that tells me that they’re looking for some protection.”
Asia’s second World Cup enjoys staunch backing from regional officials, with Blatter earning loud applause when he told the gala dinner: “The World Cup 2022 will be played in Qatar.”
Controversy again engulfed Asia’s second World Cup when investigator Michael Garcia disowned the findings of his report into the bidding process, as presented by FIFA.
Widespread calls to make the report public have fallen on deaf ears. Al Khater said: “At this point our opinion is that this report isn’t in relation to Qatar, as a lot of people make it sound.”
He added: “I’m pretty sure people are already feeling tired of this story. I think there’s already reader fatigue in terms of this story. For us we’re just focused on our work, we don’t really pay attention to it.”
Al Khater said worker welfare was a top priority, after Amnesty International published claims of forced labour and Germany’s football boss said Qatar should be stripped of the World Cup if it cannot improve its human rights record.
Qatar will publish an interim workers’ welfare report this week, looking at issues like the sourcing of labour and accommodation. Hundreds of migrant workers have died in the wealthy Gulf state.
“We recognise that there’s been some problems, but we also recognise that there’s been tremendous progress on this issue as well,” Al Khater said.
Work has started on five stadiums and engineers are developing air-cooled training venues and fan zones. A 1,500-capacity fan site was successfully cooled during the Brazil World Cup and can be scaled up, Al Khater said.
He added that several dates were in play for 2022, which faces being moved to winter months to avoid the harsh desert summer. But a spring and autumn tournament are also possible, according to Al Khater.
“We’ve heard something as early as September or October, we’ve heard November-December, we’ve heard January-February, we’ve heard May and then we’ve heard the traditional date of June-July,” he said.
“So you have several dates on the table right now.”