Qatar's World Cup hero becomes invisible man

2015-12-01 12:50
Mohamed Bin Hammam. Photograph: Getty Images.
Mohamed Bin Hammam. Photograph: Getty Images.

Doha - This should be a time of celebration for Mohamed bin Hammam, the man who achieved the impossible and brought the World Cup to Qatar.

His beloved Al Rayyan football team have just set a Qatar Stars League record by winning their first 10 games of the season to dominate the standings.

And on Wednesday, five years will have passed since his spectacular achievement in persuading FIFA to award sport's most watched event for the tiny desert Gulf state in one of the most controversial votes in sporting history.

But the 66-year-old tycoon has become Qatar's invisible man - tainted by the scandal that has engulfed world football.

Since his spectacular fall began in 2011, when his decision to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency led to him being banned for life from football, bin Hammam has become a symbol of the corruption crisis which has rocked the world body.

Although he did not play an official role in Qatar's bid, bin Hammam stands accused - though not proven - of helping to secure the World Cup through payments to officials, including more than $1.5m to Caribbean powerbroker Jack Warner.

Evidence wanted

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper alleged that the Qatari entrepreneur made secret payments ahead of the 2010 vote for the World Cup and, later to buy votes during his disastrous presidential campaign.

From being at the very centre of world football, including as head of the Asian Football Confederation, by the end of 2012 bin Hammam had disappeared without trace.

But his presence still casts a shadow over world football.

Earlier this month, Swiss investigators examining how Qatar won the race for 2022, said they would "particularly welcome" a statement from bin Hammam.

There was no public response.

Bin Hammam would like to talk, it is said, but he has been advised not to give his side of the story, at least not yet, according to sports officials in the region.

Despite the silence, bin Hammam's presence is felt.

"It's not that he's been outcast, it's just that it is in nobody's interest that he is seen to be in contact with them," James M. Dorsey, an academic and writer who follows Middle East football, told AFP.

It is believed however that bin Hammam retains the support of former colleagues within the football administration world, who remain on speaking terms with him.

Although he is no longer thought to travel outside Qatar, bin Hammam regularly attends Al Rayyan matches, though missed their record-breaking win at the weekend, and is still a successful businessman.

As well as being a football administrator, he is said to be genuinely passionate about the sport.

Bin Hammam - who was born in the year Qatar first exported oil - remains in the construction industry in which made his fortune.

He heads a construction business with some 2 000 employees and friends say he inspires great loyalty among those who work for him.

"Qatar will not hand him over (to investigators)," added Dorsey, acknowledging the debt many still feel is owed bin Hammam within the Gulf.

In Qatar, many still view him as a man who achieved the impossible and, like the country itself, has been unfairly tarnished in the fallout.

There is talk of his generosity and his gesture in meeting the medical costs for one employee who suffered a heart attack.

Other Qataris and officials in the region talk of his modesty, calm and even shyness.

Bin Hammam may have to overcome that last trait though, as he may well be forced centre stage again during the investigations into 2022, by Switzerland's Attorney General and US federal prosecutors.

Qatar's position on the investigations is that they have always cooperated fully, while denying any charges of corruption.

But any request from investigators for evidence from bin Hammam could test Qatar's resolve.

"There's obviously no interest in making more of a scapegoat than he already is, but circumstances can change," added Dorsey.

"Qatar is not in the driving seat anymore, it has lost control of the issue."


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