Almost four years after FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the country has had more difficulty keeping the bid than winning it, with scandal and speculation continuing in 2014.
The UK’s Sunday Times revealed in June a “bombshell” cache of millions of leaked emails and documents, some showing Mohammad bin Hammam, Qatar’s former top football official, allegedly using his wealth and contacts to help the country’s chances of hosting the tournament.
Qatar vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying its bid “upheld the highest standard of ethics and integrity,” and adding that Bin Hammam “played no official or unofficial role” in the bid committee.
Infographic: Qatar’s World Cup year of scandal and speculation
Qatar had already been under the international spotlight a few weeks earlier, when UK daily The Guardian reported that hundreds of migrant workers had died since construction of the World Cup infrastructure began.
In response to The Guardian reports, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani told CNN: “Yes, it’s true – we had problems. We’re solving the problems. We changed the laws. They’re enforced, and there are many laws that have been changed.”
Qatar has until March 2015 to meet a deadline for specific labor reforms or risk losing the 2022 World Cup, Reuters reported.
The country also endures suffocating temperatures in summer, when the World Cup is traditionally held. Temperatures can reach 42 degrees, which could affect the health of players and visiting fans.
Qatar says the heat will not be an issue as all stadiums, fan zones and training areas will have advanced cooling systems, Reuters reported. However, FIFA officials have suggested moving the tournament to winter.
Despite a controversial year, some analysts believe Qatar will retain the 2022 World Cup. “FIFA has confirmed its choice several times this year,” Nabil Ennasri, writer and Qatar specialist, told Al Arabiya News.
“If FIFA bans Qatar from hosting the World Cup, football’s governing body would lose its credibility.”
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said more than once that Qatar will host the World Cup, unless there is a “huge upheaval” or new evidence of wrongdoing.
Ennasri said Qatar is likely to gain more credibility by showing that it “is ready to host international sports events.”
In 2015, the country is due to host the World Men’s Handball Championship, and is among six bidders to host the basketball World Cup.
Qatar spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy French football club Paris Saint-Germain, and has been paying $40 million a year for football star Lionel Messi and his teammates to wear “Qatar Airways” on the front of their Barcelona shirts.
James Dorsey, author of the book “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer,” told Al Arabiya News that if Qatar loses its right to host the 2022 World Cup, there will be economic losses, including money spent constructing stadiums and hotels.
It “would also have a negative impact on tourism, as it would probably damage Qatar’s reputation,” Dorsey added. However, its “economic future doesn’t depend on the World Cup.”
The cost of building stadiums and hotels is forecast at $16 billion. The additional infrastructure required to host the event could push total costs to $200 billion.
Dorsey said some countries such as the UK, which competed against Qatar for the World Cup “and feel very bitter about the outcome,” are likely to continue criticizing the emirate.
“The British press, some British parliamentarians and some sports officials will keep on trying to take away the World Cup from Qatar,” he said.
Blatter has described British media critiques as driven by “racism and discrimination.”