The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
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Joseph Muscat belongs in football

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 27 November 2022, 08:49 Last update: about 3 months ago

As billions of football fans around the world watch the world cup football, few acknowledge the black cloud of scandal that engulfed FIFA’s dodgy decision to hold the world cup in Qatar.

Even Sepp Blatter, the immensely dicey former president of FIFA commented that “the choice (of Qatar) was bad”.

Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert in their book “The Ugly Game” revealed the staggering level of corruption, racketeering and money laundering that won Qatar the 2022 world cup. They showed just how deeply enmeshed football is with politics.

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So it’s not a surprise to see Muscat entering the football world.  Muscat sidled up to his friend and construction magnate Joseph Portelli and narrowly outmanoeuvred the Premier league clubs of the chairmanship of the Malta Professional Football Clubs association - only just. With seven votes in favour, four against and three sitting-on-the-fence abstentions, Muscat got what he wanted, thanks to the construction magnate.

Qatar also got what it wanted thanks to another construction magnate - Mohammed Bin Hamam. Bin Hamam was the most senior Qatari football official thanks to the billions he made in Qatar’s construction boom.  By hook or by crook, Bin Hamam managed to get onto the all powerful 24 member FIFA executive committee.  A place on that committee is the most coveted position in world football.  That committee decides who gets to host the world cup but also controls billions of dollars of TV and sponsorship deals.

If Qatar, a tiny middle eastern country with a local population of only 300,000 can get its top football official, a construction magnate, onto the FIFA executive council, why couldn’t Malta, an EU member state, with a population of over 500,000 get a former Prime minister onto that same council? A seat on that council would suit him well.  His ambition knows no bounds, his shamelessness neither.  He’d sit quite comfortably there.  After all, 17 of the 22 FIFA executive council members who awarded Qatar the 2022 world cup have either been arrested, indicted or accused of corruption and bribery.  Football is the natural place for our very own Kink. He’d feel very much at ease, very much at home amongst them.

But back to Qatar.  How did a tiny state in the Middle East with practically no infrastructure to hold a massive football event win the most coveted prize of football? The temperatures in Qatar reach over 50 degrees Celsius in Summer - nobody could play football in those temperatures without collapsing.  Even with all the foreign residents and migrant workers, Qatar’s population is only 2.9 million.  World Cups routinely attract over 1.5 million fans to the host country.  How could Qatar accommodate them? Besides, Qatar barely had any football stadia. The only way Qatar could have won the endorsement of FIFA’s executive council was by greasing palms.

Bin Hamam who was tasked by the Emir of Qatar to bring the world cup to Qatar, flew around the world hosting football officials to lavish parties at which he handed out wads of cash.  At private meetings he held with national and regional football chiefs, he arranged for eye watering amounts of money to be transferred to their accounts in exchange for their support for Qatar’s bid. His personal assistant meticulously recorded each handout and e-mailed a copy of the bank transfer slip to each official with a thank you note from Bin Hamam. He used a network of slush funds, including his own daughter’s bank account and the accounts of the Asian football federation which he controlled, to route massive payments to those football officials.

Those bank slips, countless compromising e-mails, chat logs and reams of documents were all revealed thanks to a whistleblower from inside FIFA who leaked the information to the UK Sunday Times.  When the evidence was published by the newspaper, FIFA bizarrely denied there was any evidence of corruption. Sounds familliar? “Where is the proof?”, FIFA asked, while inundated by the evidence. Yes, Joseph Muscat belongs in football. He’s cut out for it.  He’s expert at creating the type of cognitive dissonance FIFA excelled at. He could have advised FIFA to rebut the accusations with his trademark - “there is nothing illegal with Panama companies”.

Since winning the 2022 bid, Qatar embarked on a massive programme. It built a whole new city north of Doha.  It constructed 7 new football stadia, fully air-conditioned, in the desert. It built a new airport, hotels, transport systems and road networks. To complete those mega-projects Qatar flagrantly abused migrant workers mainly from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar since it was awarded the 2022 world cup, the majority on construction sites relating to the world cup. Most of the dead were young healthy workers. Their deaths were officially classified as due to “natural causes” although practically no autopsies were carried out. Human rights groups point to how stadium workers, mostly from foreign countries, were forced to pay huge recruitment fees and had wages withheld and passports taken away.

As FIFA officials around the world face criminal charges and prosecution, Bin Hamam, the mastermind behind Qatar’s scam, continues to enjoy his life in Qatar. Heidi Blake, the UK Times journalist accused Sepp Blatter and the royal family of Qatar of reaching a secret deal to let Bin Hamam go quietly and escape justice.

As football fans around the world enjoy the spectacle, they should remember that corruption matters.  The human cost of Qatar’s spectacular corruption is staggering and disturbing. The abuse of migrant workers and the thousands of deaths recorded amongst them are a dark stain on FIFA.

What is even more depressing is that Qatar got its way. Despite the blatant corruption, FIFA didn’t reverse its decision. And Bin Hamam got away. Football has become the natural home of corruption and injustice. No wonder Joseph Muscat wormed himself into the Malta Professional Football Clubs association.

 

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