By Staff writer
Hassan Al Thawadi says Qatar will cooperate with both US and Swiss investigations into World Cup bidding
The Secretary General of Qatar’s World Cup 2022 committee has insisted that Qatar did nothing wrong in its bid for the tournament when it was awarded five years ago.
In an interview published on the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s website, the organisation’s Secretary General, Hassan Al Thawadi, said Qatar has had to live with some “intense” criticism, despite the lack of real evidence of any wrongdoing.
“We always expected criticism. There isn’t a single major sporting event in the world that doesn’t go through that journey, but I think ours has been particularly intense,” said Thawadi.
“We became the victim of a campaign that singled out Qatar and our successful bid without any shred of evidence. We’ve had to live with that for five years but there has still been no evidence to suggest our Bid Committee did anything wrong.”
US federal prosecutors and the Swiss Attorney General have launched investigations this year into suspected corruption at FIFA.
The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said this week that it is reviewing 133 reports of suspicious financial activity linked to the decisions by soccer’s ruling body to let Russia and Qatar host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals. Both Russia and Qatar deny any wrongdoing.
An OAG spokeswoman told Reuters that the suspicious activity reports came from a Swiss financial intelligence unit called the Money Laundering Reporting Office Switzerland (MROS).
“These reports are related to the ongoing criminal proceedings around the allocation of the Football World Cup 2018 and 2022,” she added.
US federal prosecutors are conducting a parallel investigation into FIFA's financial conduct, and have indicted 27 soccer officials over multimillion-dollar bribery schemes for soccer marketing and broadcast rights. Twelve people and two sports marketing companies have been convicted.
That investigation is also looking into the flow of suspicious money through the banking system. The Financial Times reported that prosecutors were threatening to punish banks for failing to report suspicious activity in FIFA-related accounts.
Thawadi insisted that he’s not concerned that evidence will emerge that implicates Qatar.
“I think if you examine it closely you can see these investigations focus on individuals, not a young, hard-working bid committee from Qatar,” he said.
In response to a question, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last week that she hoped Qatar would cooperate with the World Cup bidding investigation.
Thawadi said that while they have not been contacted by the US Department of Justice or the office of the Swiss Attorney General in relation to their investigations, the Qatar bid committee would cooperate in full, as he said it did with Michael Garcia's Ethics Committee investigation.
“We maintain that we conducted our bid ethically and with integrity, strictly adhering to all rules and regulations of the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process,” said Thawadi.
He said hosting the World Cup in Qatar will have wider significance for the region and the Arab world.
“We strongly believe that hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the Middle East is more necessary than ever considering the global political climate. People from all corners of the world will come together on Arab soil, to celebrate and enjoy the world's greatest sporting event and we consider this a precious opportunity to enhance cultural understanding between people of different cultures and backgrounds, uniting through a shared passion for football,” Thawadi said.
In relation to labour issues, he said Qatar’s government has announced reforms, which he admitted “may not be coming quick enough for some people”.
“There will inevitably be a lot of noise surrounding the way those changes are implemented, but Qatar is committed to progressing,” he said.
Media reports in the past year claimed that as many as 1,200 workers have died working on building sites in Qatar. Thawadi insisted, however, that “in more than 14 million man hours worked, the Supreme Committee has not experienced one single fatality on site”.
“Our Workers’ Welfare Standards ensure the highest level of health and safety on all of our stadiums. The welfare of our workers is of paramount importance and we simply do not compromise our high standards. I just wish the same could be said of some of the media outlets who report these false claims,” he said.