It is impossible to feel any sympathy for Qatar. An oil-rich Gulf state which somehow manages to get the World Cup and then lavishes money to try and convince the world it can not only stage the event but contribute to a better understanding of the world of sport hardly qualifies for sympathy. The immediate response would be there are far worthier subjects to feel sorry for. Yet as Qatar continues to get a bad press we must ask ourselves what is Qatar doing wrong and can they ever get out of this terrible spiral of distrust and dislike? And make no mistake they are.
It must be said that the Qataris do not help themselves. Take for instance the recent conference held by the International Centre of Sport Security. The location could not have been more impressive. Lancaster House, no less, the sort of place the British used to gather to sort out the future of their colonies, the last such occasion being the talks on Zimbabwe. Now more often it is a place for weighty issues connected with the Commonwealth and other world affairs. And along with the venue came a glittering dinner at the Banqueting Hall.
The dinner was meant to showcase Save the Dream, a joint initiative of ICSS and the Qatar Olympic Committee, “aimed at promoting and protecting the purity of sport and its values, for the benefit of younger generations”. Just to make sure we did not miss the message the brochure had a photograph of a small boy in his underpants on some beach in Brazil kicking a ball, part of the Magnum collection of classic pictures.
All this was topped by the theme of the conference: Sport is Under Threat: The Game is Ours to win. And to examine the Social, Economic and Financial Impact of Sports Corruption for two whole days there trooped into Lancaster House a galaxy of speakers, some of the famous names in sports. Their task was to tell us how we can make sport safe, secure and clean which is, of course, the very worthy vision of the organisation.
Yet if the conference was meant to achieve its purpose it clearly did not. This was most evident when Franz Beckenbauer spoke. For much of the time he spoke of his time in football, his experiences of the 1970 World Cup where he played on in one match with an injured shoulder – in those days with only two substitutes allowed he could not go off. And why he still believed that that goal in 1966 had not crossed the line. All very interesting but not much to do with the theme of the conference.
So, not surprisingly, when the questions came they were all about Qatar winning the right to stage 2022, how did it do it, whether it should be allowed to stage it and also whether the Kaiser would support Sepp Blatter for another term as FIFA President next year. These questions were inevitable as Beckenbauer was part of the FIFA executive that decided on 2022. I must say some of the questions were quite uncomfortable but Beckenbauer, as he did in his playing days, gave nothing away. And the media left the conference having little to write, feeling none too pleased and the Qataris got a bad press.
Now the Qataris will say this is all the fault of the western, particularly the dreadful British press. They have convinced themselves that the idea of Qatar hosting the World Cup is monstrous, particularly in the summer. Interestingly, while Beckenbauer would not say if Qatar was the right choice, let alone who he voted for, he agreed with Michel Platini that it can only be held in the winter.
Many in the British media believe Qatar used improper means to secure 2022 although no evidence has emerged that they did and the Qataris keep denying this. In such a situation whatever the Qataris do and however grand the venue their cause will not be helped. It does not help that FIFA refuse to release the Garcia report which has looked into the bid and how the decision was taken.
And that is just the reason why Qatar needs to re examine its entire PR strategy. It is easy to see where this PR strategy comes from. Qatar to everyone’s surprise including, I suspect, its own wins the 2022 bid. Having secured this undreamt for prize it then sets out to show how it can help not just football but world sport.
So it starts using its vast wealth to organise huge conferences where the great and the good of the world are invited to give us their views on sport and wider issues connected with sport. The media is also invited and the hope is the media having access to such people, which is all but impossible, will be impressed and write wonderful things about Qatar.
It has not happened and will not happen and this is not just because the media believe Qatar is hiding some deadly secret about how it won the bid.
It will not happen because it does not look real.
Let us face it: why did Qatar bid for the world’s greatest sporting event? It did because the football world cup is the greatest soft power on earth. Qatar ever since the first Gulf War has, shall we say, less than cordial relations with Saudi Arabia. It knew it had to build up political support and hosting the World Cup was seen as the means for that, soft power helping secure real, political, power.
Yet Qatar does not admit that. It runs a sort of modified version of John Kennedy’s famous words at his inauguration: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. The Qatari version is ask not what the World Cup can do for Qatar, ask what Qatar can do for the World Cup and for world sport. Aside from hosting some conferences of high profile speakers in glamourous settings it is difficult to see what Qatar can do for the World Cup, let alone World sport.
So what should Qatar do?
It should confess to the wider political reason that led the country to launch the bid.
It should then declare that since many in football, including such luminaries such as Beckbenbauer, only the second person to win the World Cup as player and manager, and Platini, believe it should be held in winter it will agree to move 2022 to winter.
And since this will cost the leagues in Europe money it will compensate them.
And in order to make sure spectators come it will not only give away all tickets free but help finance fans trip to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
I know all this sounds extraordinary but Qatar hosting the World Cup sounds extraordinary. And if Qatar does this then I am sure at least some of the media heat on Qatar will dissipate for the media will have to talk about a World Cup the like of which has never before been staged.
And is that not what Qatar is saying it will do?
So come on Qatar stop listening to glitzy western PR men, adopt the sort of original thinking that helped Saladin defeat the Crusaders and turn the tide for Islam. If you do you may turn the tide that is running against you.
But I suspect you will not and so the story will not change. More glamourous Qatari conferences, more insistent media inquiries as to how could Qatar win 2022.