Do I think Qatar was awarded the World Cup fairly? I don't know for sure. But neither do you.
If you happen not to have read any opinion on Qatar 2022 this week, let me help you out with an example, from my country.
"It's a scorching Islamic desert hell-hole which routinely employs slave labour and has the kind of respect for human rights you might expect from, say, Darth Vader."
That pretty much captures the level of considered analysis we are dealing with in the UK. This one to be found in a newspaper notorious for trying to pin the deaths of 96 innocent football fans on those 96 innocent football fans.
But it's not just that particular tabloid. Infact, far from it. Another respected writer wrote about terrorist links, one suggested the tournament should have been awarded to Australia (fair point, until the last line of his piece gave him away):
|The treatment of construction workers in Qatar has been the talking point [GALLO/GETTY]
"Qatar will host the World Cup and visiting fans will just have to pinch their noses at the stench."
The stench of what? Corruption? Abuse of workers’ rights? Be nice if he'd made that clearer too.
Presuming the tournament is played in Qatar, will these two writers be there? Or will they be turning down their accreditation? Will they only be agreeing to go under certain conditions? Will they be doing any investigative journalism to explore whether Qatar has moved on satisfactorily? Or will they sit in their ivory towers until the end of the year 2021 then suddenly soften to a Qatar World Cup?
Clearing things up
I want to try and spell out my issue with coverage of Qatar 2022 as well as the information that is being fed to the public. I believe it's my duty to do this because of the privileged position I am in. I have been able to put tough questions to Fifa and the Qatar 2022 organisers as a neutral journalist for an international and independent news organisation.
Last week, Fifa Secretary-General Jerome Valcke made the time to face such questions despite the problems over Brazil. His answers can be seen in a forthcoming 'Talk to Al Jazeera'.
I accused Fifa of having been riddle with corruption for years. I pushed him on workers’ rights progress. And displayed incredulity at Fifa originally thinking the tournament could be played in such heat. In October, I grilled Qatar 2022's Hassan al-Thawadi over workers’ rights while Al Jazeera was independently carrying out its own journalism in Qatar and other countries with such problems.
Do I think Fifa messed up by awarding two World Cups at once, leaving the process particularly vulnerable to 'deals' and 'dark arts'? Yes, and I’ve told Fifa this.
Do I think Qatar 'bought the World Cup'? I don't know. I could speculate but I believe it's for independent investigator Michael Garcia to enlighten us with and not for us to presume.
Do I think the World Cup should be taken away from Qatar? Absolutely not. Why would anyone even suggest it before the investigation's findings are revealed? The World Cup should be in the Middle East. Those who say it should be taken away are those that need challenging. Because my key question is this: On what specific grounds?
Take it away because they bought the World Cup? The Daily Telegraph proved it. No they didn't.
The Telegraph proved a further large payment had been made to the disgraced former Fifa big-hitter Jack Warner and I congratulate them on that. The headline was designed to make us believe they had a smoking gun from Qatar 2022. Halfway through the piece, the name Mohamed Bin Hammam appeared. The only Qatari mentioned by name. The man kicked out of Fifa for corruption around his attempt to become its chief.
Did the Telegraph try and prove a link between Bin Hammam and Qatar 2022? If they had, my opinion would have changed. But there is no proven link hence the speculation and assumption.
Take it away because it's hot? This is Fifa's fault. Sooner or later the tournament had to be played in a country with extreme temperatures in June/July. Fifa should have planned for this. Valcke graciously accepted my criticism. It's not Qatar's fault.
Take it away because of the treatment of its construction workers? At last an issue where there is proof. An issue where action was needed urgently and has been taken. Qatar, like many countries - many countries in the region - needed to be tackled on this. It's been a horrible situation.
We are not the United Nations but we can tell the country it goes against Fifa's rules, ethics codes and principle
A colleague said to me this morning that World Cups and Olympics should be awarded on humanitarian grounds. I am sympathetic to that view. But there is a limit to what FIfa can do.
"We are not the United Nations," Valcke told me in that interview. “But we can tell the country it goes against Fifa's rules, it goes against Fifa's ethics codes, it goes against Fifa's principle. And we can help and change that.”
Theo Zwanziger has updated the Fifa Executive Committee on the progress and said that 'honest updates' are needed. Blatter himself will be part of the ongoing monitoring process with a visit to Qatar in the coming weeks. There will be 'microscope above Qatar', according to Zwanziger, and that's surely a good thing. He added that progress has been made and there's been a 'realisation that change is needed’.
If you think the World Cup should be taken away because ‘it’s a scorching hot Islamic desert…’, please ask yourself if you're being fair, if you're informed, if you – or someone you know - have been to Qatar, if the World Cup should ever be played in the Middle East, if you'd prefer to deal in fact that hearsay and supposition.
If, after all those questions, you still want the World Cup taken from Qatar, fair enough. Everyone, even Qataris, are entitled to an opinion.