The Qatar World Cup organising team has rejected claims it ran a secret “black operations” campaign to sabotage its rivals while bidding for the right to host the 2022 tournament.
This morning, The Sunday Times reported that the country’s bid team hired a PR agency and former CIA operatives to put out fake propaganda about its main competitors, the United States and Australia.
The alleged disinformation campaign involved recruiting prominent figures to criticise the bids in their own countries, in an effort to give the impression that they lacked support at home.
In a statement this morning, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy rejected "each and every allegation put forward by the Sunday Times."
It said it had "strictly adhered to all FIFA's rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process."
The general secretary of the Qatar World Cup organisation committee Hassan Al-Thawadi and World Cup ambassador Xavi Hernandez, 04-01-2018. Image: Sven Hoppe/DPA/PA Images
While the revelations will add fuel to calls for Qatar to be stripped of the World Cup, the football governing body said it had already carried out an investigation into the Qatari bid – and found no wrongdoing.
According to FIFA's rules, bidders must "refrain from making any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association which has expressed an interest in hosting and staging the competitions."
An exterior view of the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 04-01-20218. Image: Sven Hoppe/DPA/PA Images
The alleged smear campaign reportedly included paying a professor $9,000 (€7,710) to write a highly-critical report on the economic cost of hosting a tournament in the US.
It reportedly also saw journalists and bloggers recruited to promote negative stories in the media.
The report claims the campaign saw grassroots protests organised at Australian rugby matches.
It is also claimed a group of American PE teachers were recruited to ask congressmen to oppose a US World Cup bid, because the money would be better spent on school sports.