DOHA, Qatar – Imagine that. People who bribe and cheat to get what they want are not to be trusted.
FIFA got what it so richly deserved on Friday, stabbed in the back by the same people whose disregard for human rights the sport’s governing body has spent the past 12 years ignoring and excusing simply because the price was right. Today, FIFA’s reputation – or what was left of it after all its greed and corruption – is worth less than Twitter, and its relationship with one of its oldest and most lucrative sponsors has been trashed. .
And why? A World Cup that feels slapped despite over a decade of planning and has all the authenticity of a Kardashian. Great job, FIFA executives, I hope that extra wealth in your bank accounts was worth depreciating on the world’s greatest sporting event, your crown jewel.
FIFA announced on Friday afternoon, just two days before the start of the World Cup, that alcoholic beer will not be sold in any of Qatar’s eight stadiums as originally planned. No explanation, no apology to the fans who spent thousands on tickets and trips assuming Qatari organizers would keep their promise that local customs would not be imposed on a global event.
Just… no beer.
“The tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continued support of our shared commitment to meeting everyone’s needs.” FIFA said in a statement confirming that it was shelving Budweiser products from AB InBev.
Except that FIFA is not for everyone. It is for Qataris and only for Qataris. And he does it because Qatar offered FIFA members millions during the World Cup bidding process, and those FIFA members took them without hesitation.
No doubt they assumed it would be the transplant as usual. They would take the wads of cash in exchange for their vote, and then everyone would consider the debt paid.
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They wanted the tournament moved to the fall and FIFA acquiesced. They wanted to push the start date back by a day just three months before the tournament and FIFA agreed. They wanted a Nobel Peace Prize for accepting what should be the bare minimum in human rights for migrant workers and the LGBTQ community and FIFA raced to get the nomination form.
So when Qatari officials decided it would be inappropriate for fans to see alcohol in stadiums – some even consuming it, God forbid! – FIFA did not have the capacity to say no. Even if his softness came at the expense of a loyal and lucrative partner.
Budweiser has been a major sponsor since the 1986 World Cup and paid $75 million for the right to be FIFA’s exclusive beer supplier. But the Qataris have spent untold millions on bribes, then spent billions building shiny new FIFA stadiums and hotels, and apparently it’s winning.
FIFA’s betrayal will cost sponsors dearly, who will no doubt think twice before doing business with a partner who sells them to a higher bidder. And Egypt and Saudi Arabia can forget their hopes of a joint bid with Greece for the 2030 World Cup, because no sponsor will sign for the second round of this nonsense.
The World Cup is meant to be his coming-out party, a chance to show the 1.2 million fans who come and their friends back home just how attractive and cosmopolitan a place Qatar is. This carefully constructed image – some would call it contrived – has now been shattered.
Qatar always harbors hopes of hosting the Olympics, too, having failed in its bids for the 2016, 2020 and 2032 Summer Games. Good luck with that now given that some of FIFA’s sponsors are also big spenders in the Olympic movement. The members of the International Olympic Committee are just as cowardly as their FIFA counterparts, but they are not as naked in their greed.
By chasing money from Qatar, FIFA has cost itself. Because it has exerted its weight now, Qatar has limited its influence in the future. No one wins in this debacle.
Except those of us who said that putting the World Cup and the booze party that accompanies it in a conservative Islamic country was a terrible idea, and who are delighted to see FIFA and Qatar paying the price.
Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.
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