07-29-2018, 11:37 AM
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: The Black Country
The controversial Qatar World Cup bid team broke Fifa’s rules by running a secret “black operations” campaign to sabotage rivals competing to host the tournament, according to documents leaked to The Sunday Times.
Emails from a whistleblower show how the bid paid a public relations firm and former CIA agents to pump out fake propaganda about its main rivals, the United States and Australia, during its successful campaign to host the next World Cup.
The campaign involved recruiting influential people to attack the bids in their own countries, seeking to create the impression that there was “zero support” for the World Cup domestically.
One of the key criteria laid down by Fifa, world football’s governing body, was that the bids should have strong backing at home.
The revelations will add to growing calls for Qatar to be stripped of the right to host the World Cup.
This newspaper has already provided extensive evidence of corruption in the process that centred on payments to football officials by Mohamed bin Hammam, Qatar’s top Fifa representative.
The latest revelations appear to be a flagrant breach of the rules set down for bidding countries by Fifa.
It says that bidders should not make “any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association.”
One of the leaked emails, sent to Qatar’s deputy bid leader Ali al-Thawadi, shows that the Gulf state was aware of a plot to spread “poison” against its chief rivals — even cooking up a resolution for the US Congress on the “harmful” effects of an American World Cup in the week of the vote.
Middlemen acting for the bid approached respected academics pretending to represent taxpayers concerned about public money being spent on rival bids.
They paid one professor $9,000 to write a damning report about the huge economic cost of a US World Cup and then pushed the story out to the international media.
The documents were passed to The Sunday Times by a whistleblower who had worked with the Qatar bid on the World Cup campaign.
Last month the whistleblower gave testimony to Damian Collins, chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee. Collins said he was “extremely concerned” and urged Fifa to investigate. “The ultimate sanction for breaking the rules would be the loss of the right to host the tournament,” he said.
Lord Triesman, former chairman of the Football Association and England bid chairman, said: “Fifa’s obligation is to look at the evidence thoroughly and very rapidly and have the courage to take what may be a difficult decision. If Qatar is shown to have broken the Fifa rules, then they can’t hold on to the World Cup.”
He added: “I think it would not be wrong for Fifa to reconsider England in those circumstances ... We have the capabilities.”
A two-year Fifa inquiry into the corruption allegations against Qatar and the other bidders “cleared” the Gulf state and found no links between the state’s official bid committee and bin Hammam.
It is understood that the latest leaked documents were not seen by the Fifa investigation, led by the US attorney Michael Garcia.
This time the documents do implicate the Qatar bid committee. The whistleblower describes an extensive campaign funded and overseen by the committee aimed at America, Australia and also England — regarded as an outsider.
The aim of the black operations campaign, according to the whistleblower, was to influence the Fifa executive committee by making it appear as if there was no local support for Qatar’s rivals in the months before they voted in December 2010.
The strategy was executed in the New York offices of communications company Brown Lloyd Jones (BLJ), which is now BLJ Worldwide.
A team of ex-CIA agents is also said to have been employed to help disseminate propaganda against Qatar’s rivals.
According to the emails, they recruited journalists, bloggers and other figures to hype up negative stories, spy on rivals, produce intelligence reports on key people and create grassroots protests.
In one email dated May 2010, Michael Holtzman, a BLJ president based in New York, gave a progress report setting out details of the covert operations to Ahmad Nimeh, a senior adviser to the bid team who now works for the Qatar supreme committee for delivery and legacy. Entitled “Strategy”, the email begins: “For the past 4 months we have undertaken an extensive campaign to undermine the 2018/2022 candidacies of competitor countries, particularly Australia and the US”.
The email then lists the following activities:
● “Recruiting journalists, bloggers and high-profile figures in each market to raise questions and promote negative aspects of their respective bids in the media. Dozens of articles have appeared in US, Australian and international media that have embarrassed or undermined these bids”
● “Developing reports, studies and legislation that provide embarrassing details or undermine central aspects of each bid. We have recruited the head of the Federation [sic] of Sports Economists to write a major study on how the US World Cup lost money and how the 2018/2022 proposal would also lose money”
● “We have recruited a group of American physical education teachers to ask their US Congressman to introduce legislation opposing the US World Cup on the grounds that the money spent on the football tournament can be better used on financing high school sports”
● “Organising protests and other grassroots opposition to bids. We have 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”
● “We have delivered several deeply revealing intelligence reports on individual targets that have been used internally by the bid.”
Since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup its relations have worsened in the Gulf, notably with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The two nations are said to be attempting to undermine the Qatar bid by spinning negative publicity. Today’s Sunday Times investigation has relied on documentary evidence that has been checked and corroborated.
The members of the Qatar bid and BLJ Worldwide failed to respond to questions last week. BLJ London said it was undergoing a demerger with the New York office at the time and had no knowledge of the work for the Qatar bid.
Following publication Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said: “The Supreme Committee rejects each and every allegation put forward by The Sunday Times. We have been thoroughly investigated and have been forthcoming with all information related to our bid, including the official investigation led by US attorney Michael Garcia. We have strictly adhered to all FIFA’s rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process.”