How Brexit is Behind The FA's New Deal With Qatar

It could be the moment when Qatar's enemies were finally forced to accept that the tiny Gulf state will host the 2022 World Cup, after all.

There's no real doubt that it would, of course, because FIFA could not afford the huge legal bill if it suddenly switched host countries.

But the English Football Association's (EFA) decision to sign an agreement with Qatar on Wednesday (February 14) will quell doubts which began when Qatar controversially won the FIFA vote in 2010.

Three years ago, Greg Dyke, then chairman of the EFA, described it as "the worst moment in FIFA's history," and called for both Qatar and Russia to be stripped of the tournament if evidence of corruption was found.

Since then, Doha's enemies have kept up the charge, with enough importance attached to the issue for it to be suggested that the current Saudi Arabia-led blockade of Qatar could be called off if the World Cup was taken off the small Gulf state.

Reports emerged in October claiming there was "an increasing political risk that Qatar may not host the World Cup in 2022."

The stories were based on a study by management consultants, Cornerstone Global, which warned that companies working on the £153 billion ($200 billion) construction programme considered it a "high-risk project," due to the destabilising effect of the blockade.

Qatar denied there was a problem, claiming the report had been written by people "with an affiliation to the countries blockading Qatar."

In June, a report by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia had found there was no smoking gun showing that either Qatar or Russia bribed officials to get their votes, or at least not enough hard evidence that could result in the World Cup being taken away from either country.

But that did not stop whistleblowers from coming forward.

Last month, Bonita Mersiades, who worked on Australia's failed 2022 bid, wrote a book claiming that Qatar's state TV company had agreed a $100 million payment to FIFA if they got the tournament.

But is that any different to the North American broadcasters paying FIFA $300 million extra if it picks the region to host the 2026 World Cup? TV deals between FIFA and nations hosting the World Cup have been big bucks for years.

FA's Deal With Qatar
FA Chairman Greg Clarke, left, and President of the Qatar Football Association Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, February 14. STRINGER/AFP/Getty

Many press reports continue to be hostile towards Qatar because the tournament will be held during winter to avoid the searing heat in the Gulf, and consequently mess up the Premier League season.

This can lead to negative reports, such as one which claimed Qatar will only let fans drink alcohol in scorching and isolated desert sites far away from the stadiums, to avoid offending the locals.

The Sun newspaper quoted an EFA source, saying: "Who in their right mind would go to an Arab state where they shunt you miles into the desert to get a pint before the game? Sponsors like Budweiser are in an awkward position and there are real fears of a global boycott."

Yet last week the EFA chairman Greg Clarke was confident enough the tournament would go ahead to be signing a memorandum of understanding to "share knowledge" with Qatar.

The deal will include arranging friendly matches across all age groups in the run up to 2022 as well as promoting women's football.

"This will mark the beginning of even deeper co-operation between our two countries, and underlines the UK's support for Qatar in delivering a successful World Cup 2022," said Ajay Sharma, British Ambassador to Qatar.

Following some criticism at the deal, the EFA has also promised to raise human rights abuses and homophobia issues with Qatar.

It says it hopes it can "positively influence football in Qatar" and engage on wider social issues.

Last month Qatar won praise from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) for hosting a World Cup which honors workers' rights after agreeing to scrap the notorious kafala system by the end of March.

The exploitative system of sponsored labor affects two million migrant workers in Qatar—and 23 million across the Gulf region—of whom tens of thousands are involved in building World Cup stadia.

Like the ITUC, the EFA is clearly convinced that Qatar is committed to reforms it has agreed which will stop workers from south Asia being trapped in slave-like conditions when their wages are stopped and they are unable to leave because employers have confiscated their paperwork.

So what has made the EFA change its tune and get on board with the Doha government? The answer is trade.

Britain is hoping for £30 billion worth of trade in the Gulf post-Brexit and Qatar will be a major part of that.

Last month Doha signed a £5 billion deal with BAE Systems for 24 Typhoon fighter jets that will ensure U.K. production of the combat aircraft continues into the next decade.

The announcement was credited with saving thousands of British manufacturing jobs.

There is also a World Cup trade bonanza up for grabs as Qatar steps up its preparations for the tournament, spending £51 million every week.

Contracts up for grabs include CCTV installation at stadiums, designing bus depots and a port redevelopment project.

The huge importance to Britain of trade in the Middle East can be seen by the fact that the UK government is prepared to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by a Saudi-led alliance during its two-year bombing campaign of Yemen, just so that it can continue to pursue arms deals with Riyadh.

Or the fact that Theresa May will not speak up for the human rights of pro-democracy demonstrators on Death Row when she sits down with the Saudi king.

So it should come as no real surprise that the U.K. has decided to draw a line under the seven-year row over the awarding of the FIFA World Cup to Qatar, and thrown itself four-square behind Doha.


Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail.