Wed, Jun 24, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Qatar group to promote sports integrity in US as World Cup award faces probes

Reuters, NEW YORK and LONDON

FIFA’s granting of rights to Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022 is a focus of US and Swiss probes into alleged corruption at soccer’s governing body, but that is not stopping a group financed by the Middle Eastern nation from going to Washington this week to talk about cleaning up sports.

The Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), which is largely funded by the Qatari government, is to talk about its efforts to boost transparency in bidding processes for major sporting events and combat financial malpractice in professional sport at an event it is holding at the National Press Club today.

The group, which is headed by two former officials from Qatar’s military, includes FIFA’s former head of security as an executive director and Interpol’s former president as a member of its advisory board.

The event comes on the heels of a May 27 indictment by US authorities of nine current or former FIFA officials and five executives in sports marketing or broadcasting. They face charges of bribery, money laundering and wire fraud involving more than US$150 million.

That investigation is also examining allegations that there was corruption in the awarding of World Cup hosting rights to Russia for 2018 and Qatar four years later, according to a US law enforcement official. The Swiss authorities have their own criminal probe into those decisions.

“The ICSS encourages and supports any proactive action that targets corruption in sport governing bodies by law enforcement agencies,” the organization said in a statement on its Web site.

Its budget is 70 percent financed by the government of Qatar and the rest is income from projects, ICSS spokesman Stuart Hodge said.

Critics say the organization has a public perception problem because of the investigations into the allegations about how its main patron won enough support from FIFA’s 24-member executive committee in 2010 to get the 2022 hosting rights. It had faced competing bids from the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Jens Sejer Andersen, the director of Danish government-funded sports integrity group Play the Game, said that the ICSS clearly had a credibility problem “when serious suspicions are floating in the air surrounding Qatar’s 2022 bid due to the corrupt culture in FIFA at the time.”

Both Russia and Qatar have vehemently denied there was any wrongdoing in the way they won the World Cup hosting rights. They were not the subject of the indictments announced by US prosecutors last month.

ICSS president Mohammed Hanzab, a former lieutenant colonel in the Qatari Armed Forces, announced the formation of the organization in March 2011, only about three months after the desert nation won its bid to host the 2022 competition.

Soon after, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee announced an agreement with the ICSS to assist with security for the games.

The ICSS’ advisory board includes Singapore’s Khoo Boon Hui, who was Interpol’s president from 2008 to 2012. Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee was among the top ten sources of external funding for the international crime fighting group last year.

Interpol earlier this month suspended a 20 million euro (US$22 million) sports “integrity” agreement with FIFA in the wake of the investigations.

The ICSS’ connections to FIFA include Chris Eaton, the group’s executive director for sport integrity. A former Australian cop and Interpol official, Eaton became FIFA’s head of security in 2010, where he looked into allegations of vote swapping between Qatar and Spain-Portugal, who had put in a joint bid for the 2018 World Cup.

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