Brazil 2014: Political tensions surround World Cup
About half the world’s population is expected to watch the World Cup in Brazil, but the run up to the tournament has been troubled by demonstrations in Brazil and all-too-familiar allegations of corruption at the heart of Fifa, world football’s governing body. Joe Leahy, Brazil correspondent, Roger Blitz, leisure industries correspondent, and JP Rathbone, Latin American editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the state of the World Cup.
By Roger Blitz and Simeon Kerr
Why is Qatar facing so much pressure over winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup tournament?
From the outset, the decision of the 22 Fifa executive committee members who voted in December 2010 raised eyebrows. A tiny state with no football infrastructure beat more fancied rivals Australia and the US, as well as Japan and South Korea. It got 11 votes in the first round and beat the US in a run-off by 14 votes to 8.
That is a very small electorate.
Yes – and they were also voting for the 2018 tournament hosts, won by Russia. Even before they voted, some Fifa members were being accused of offering their votes in return for cash. Fifa subsequently admitted it was wrong to run the two tournament votes together.
Corruption allegations. Qatar. World Cup. Those words tend to stick together.
Indeed. It did not help that a leaked email from Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke said Qatar had “bought” the world cup. Nor that Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam was suspended by Fifa and later banned for life following bribery allegations during his campaign to become Fifa president. Nor that Fifa has been battling bribery claims stretching back several years.
Anyone who thought references to the Assads’ “killing machine” in Syria’s civil war was hyperbolic metaphor should read a horrendously literal report that has just surfaced, detailing the “industrial scale” killing of about 11,000 detainees in the regime’s dungeons. It provides harrowing confirmation of what organisations from the UN to Human Rights Watch had partially documented: the systematic liquidation, usually by or after torture, of those who question or combat the Assad tyranny.
The report is based largely on evidence assembled and smuggled out on a memory stick by a Syrian military policeman, codenamed Caesar to protect him and his family from reprisals, whose job it was to photograph the dead bodies, often up to 50 a day. The evidence has been examined by lead prosecutors for the war crimes tribunals of Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia and top international forensics experts, commissioned by a London law firm on behalf of Qatar, which has been a leading supporter of Syria’s rebels. They found it to be credible evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes that would stand up in a court of law.
Qatar’s outgoing ruler likes to be known as a maverick in a conservative Gulf apprehensive of change. True to his reputation, he becomes the first Arab leader to abdicate in favour of his son, Crown Prince Tamim.
More changes are expected in Doha this week, not least the departure of Hamad bin Jassim, the powerful prime minister and architect of the country’s controversial foreign policy.
Whether he is ill, as many believe, or simply wanting to get ahead of the curve, the 61-year-old Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani has undoubtedly annoyed his neighbours with his move.
Chris Cook, the FT’s education correspondent, on how the WISE conference in Qatar showcased alternative attitudes towards learning and knowledge.
By Chris Cook, education correspondent
Qatar has enormous oil and gas reserves, but the little state is trying to kick the petroleum habit and become a high-tech society. It wants a sustainable economy for when the oil runs out – and a more cultured society in the meantime.
The Qatar Foundation is the institution that is leading this drive: I am in the little Gulf state this week for WISE, their annual summit on education, where I was a speaker on the finance of education. The whole thing is rather spectacular.
When they say they are going to do something, they go big – sometimes to a rather baffling degree. One of my favourite examples of this is their super-duper equine health centre, which trains horse-handlers and apparently features a sauna for the horses.