The delegates from FIFA celebrate winning the 2022 World Cup. (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri)
The delegates from FIFA celebrate winning the 2022 World Cup. (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri)

World needs to see Qatar documents

FORMER Australian World Cup bid team member-turned-whistleblower Bonita Mersiades has called on FIFA to urgently investigate new corruption allegations into Qatar's 2022 bid.

And ex-Socceroo Robbie Slater said "there's no reason Australia couldn't" have a second crack at hosting the showpiece tournament, but joined the global chorus of doubt over Qatar ever being stripped of the right it so ­controversially won eight years ago.

A bombshell report by the Sunday Times claims the Qatari bid team ran a secret "black operations" propaganda campaign to undermine main rivals Australia and the US in violation of FIFA rules.

The newspaper claims to have obtained leaked emails from a whistleblower that show the team engaged a public relations firm and former CIA officials to sabotage domestic support - a key FIFA criteria.

One such email sent to Qatar's deputy bid leader Ali al-Thawadi allegedly shows the state was aware of plots to spread "poison" against other bidders.

Australia was mentioned as a target of "organised protests and other grassroots opposition to bids", including "a group of pro-rugby students in Melbourne, Australia, who will start appearing at rugby matches with signs 'Hands Off Our Rugby No to World Cup!' in June".

Then FIFA President Sepp Blatter names Qatar as the winning hosts of 2022 World Cup. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Then FIFA President Sepp Blatter names Qatar as the winning hosts of 2022 World Cup. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

If true, the explosive allegations will add to growing calls for Qatar to be stripped of the 2022 tournament.

And, crucially, the Times claims they were not seen by US lawyer Michael Garcia during the two-year FIFA inquiry into the corruption allegations against Qatar before the subsequent Garcia Report cleared the Gulf state of wrongdoing.

Mersiades, who was head of corporate affairs at FFA and a member of the Australian bid's senior management team until she was sacked for questioning the governing body's processes, called on FIFA to reopen investigations.

"I have been aware of these allegations and rumours for some months," Mersiades said.

"If world football and FIFA are to have any hope of credibility, the documents need to be given to FIFA and shared with the world, and investigated ­independently as a matter of priority."

If proven, and in the unlikely event Qatar is stripped of hosting rights, it's unclear which country would get the World Cup instead.

Of the five bidders, the US finished second in the voting process but has since won the rights to 2026 in conjunction with Mexico and Canada.

South Korea and Japan were the other two unsuccessful bids alongside Australia, while England has been thrown up as an alternative.

Bonita Mersiades, former Football Federation Australia employee, who was involved in Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid says the world needs to see the explosive new documents from the Times.
Bonita Mersiades, former Football Federation Australia employee, who was involved in Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid says the world needs to see the explosive new documents from the Times.

Even if given a chance, local commentators were divided over whether Australia would have the time, resources, existing infrastructure and government and public support to host.

"We weren't even second, we got one vote," Slater said.

"It's all hypothetical but could we do it? There's no reason why we couldn't. Would the government support it? I don't know.

"It'd have to be offered to you. There's no chance of us bidding for another one given all the shit that happened at the last one and with the waste of money."

Fellow Fox Sports commentator Andy Harper, who was present for the announcement in 2010 that shocked the world, said The Times article could "light the fuse" for further investigations and served to "reconfirm people's worst fears about the whole process 10 years ago".

But he held significant doubts over whether Australia could hustle in time for 2022, especially considering any potential lengthy appeals process.

"I think that horse has probably bolted, unfortunately," Harper said. "I still love the idea of a World Cup in Australia but I would find it hard that governments could line up funding packages to get it done.

"Whether Australia's got the stomach for it I'd be very surprised, from a logistical perspective and the available time … I just don't see it being a realistic proposition.

"It was hard enough to get Australia behind the totality of the bid when we thought it was a shot at the target."

Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said it "rejected" all the claims made by the paper.

"We have strictly adhered to all FIFA's rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process."

FIFA said an investigation into the circumstances of the bid had already been carried out and no wrongdoing was found.

The Sunday Times front page on Qatar World Cup shame.
The Sunday Times front page on Qatar World Cup shame.

FFA confirmed it was monitoring the issue.

"We have noted the matters raised in The Sunday Times article," an FFA spokesperson said.

"It is difficult to comment without more information, but we will monitor any developments over the next few days."

Complicating matters is that the 2014 Garcia report also implicates Football Federation Australia, detailing "strong evidence that FFA made improper payments intended to influence the vote of an executive committee member" on the FIFA panel.

Mersiades' book, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way, alleges the failed Australian bid harmed the country's reputation within FIFA while wasting $46 million in taxpayers' money.

It also recounts how then FIFA president Sepp Blatter told her Australia never stood a chance.

"Australia had no chance. Not a chance. Never," he said.

"You never had a chance because you were never going to be competitive for the broadcasters.

"Not the time zone, not the money. It is obvious. We have to make enough money at the World Cup for the next four years and Australia wouldn't be able to do it."