By Courtney Trenwith
The site was created by a PR agency and poses as a normal football forum but has been used to stir up public support for the Gulf state’s hosting of the 2022 tournament
Qatar has hired an English public relations company to set-up a football blog that has published multiple posts attacking critics of the Gulf state’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup tournament.
British TV network Channel 4 News discovered the blog was created by PR company Portland Communications, which counts the Qatar government as its biggest client.
The Pressing Game features numerous blogs promoting the Qatari World Cup and bashing those who have criticised it or made corruption allegations during the 2010 bidding process.
In an anonymous post on August 4, BBC sports journalist Gary Lineker is accused of “startling hypocrisy” for his criticism of the Qatar World Cup because he used to host UEFA Champions League coverage for Al Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari government.
“That’s surely the only explanation for a pretty startling display of hypocrisy,” the blog says bluntly.
“When asked whether the 2022 World Cup should be held in Qatar he described the decision as ‘ludicrous’. And then muttered, darkly, “You have to be careful what you say, but the corruption is just… yuk.”
“Hmm. Why do you have to be careful what you say, Gary? Is it because absolutely no allegations of corruption have been proven or substantiated? Or is it because you’re at risk of biting the hand that once fed you?”
The most recent post, titled ‘A Winter Wonderland’, attempts to convince readers that although Qatar has promised all the cooling technology required to host the Cup in the scorching summer, if FIFA decided to move it to winter that also would be “wonderful”.
“Cue much ranting and raving from the European leagues and European journalists, no doubt. But would a Winter World Cup be such a bad idea?” it says before going on to make four arguments for why it would actually be better to host the Cup in November-December than June-July.
England’s Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said the blog was potentially unethical.
“It's a bit surprising to discover it's not fans at all, it's a PR agency,” he told Channel 4 News.
“And then to discover that public relations agency's biggest client is the Qataris. You wonder what's going on here.
"I mean, ethically it's serious, it'll make no difference and they're wasting their clients' money. There are a number of us who have questioned the Qatari bid... one has to assume that this is part of the response to that."
The only named authors on the site are former UK Labour party spin doctor Alastair Campbell and his son Rory. Alastair Campbell sat on Portland Communications' strategic council until recently, according to Channel 4 News.
In response to the broadcaster, Alastair Campbell said he was a senior adviser at Portland when he was writing for The Pressing Game site.
He said he does not accept that the site is just a front for Portland Communications and accused Channel 4 News of chasing "an über non-story".
"If I recall correctly I wrote a piece for The Pressing Game about how badly wrong the pundits got the World Cup which for obvious reasons I couldn't get placed in most media outlets ... I also put my son in touch with them," he said.
However, Portland attempted to distance itself from the blog.
"The site was created by a former employee, and our digital team gave some technical help when the platform was built, but Portland does not run it. It is not part of our work for the Government of Qatar," the agency told Channel 4 News.
Money is yet again used for the same purpose!
Blog is a good tool to share the ideas - even if supporter or opposition. Money is to spent . What you going to do keeping it. Money is not using for building stadiums, infrastructure etc ?. Charitable trusts will not come to do that.