DOHA, Qatar – Imagine that. People who bribe and cheat to get what they want aren’t to be trusted.
FIFA got what it so richly deserved Friday, stabbed in the back by the same folks whose indifference to human rights the sport’s governing body has spent the last 12 years ignoring and excusing simply because the price was right. Now FIFA’s reputation – or whatever was left of it after all its other greed and corruption – is worth less than Twitter, and its relationship with one of its oldest and most lucrative sponsors has been trashed.
And for what? A World Cup that feels slapped together despite more than a decade of planning and has all the authenticity of a Kardashian. Great job, FIFA executives, I hope those extra riches in your bank accounts were worth cheapening the world’s biggest sporting event, your crown jewel.
FIFA announced Friday afternoon, a mere two days before the World Cup is to begin, that alcoholic beer won’t be sold at any of the eight stadiums in Qatar as originally planned. No explanation, no apologies to fans who spent thousands on tickets and travel under the assumption that Qatari organizers would live up to their promise that local customs wouldn’t be imposed on a global event.
Just … no beer.
“The tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone,” FIFA said in a statement confirming it was shelving AB InBev’s Budweiser products.
Except FIFA isn’t catering to everyone. It’s catering to the Qataris and only the Qataris. And it’s doing so because Qatar offered FIFA members millions during the World Cup bidding process, and those FIFA members took them without a second thought.
No doubt they assumed it would be graft as usual. They’d take the wads of cash in exchange for their vote and then everybody would consider the debt paid.
The Qataris, however, had other ideas.
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They wanted the tournament moved to the fall and FIFA acquiesced. They wanted to push up the start date by a day only three months before the tournament and FIFA said fine. They wanted a Nobel Peace Prize for agreeing to what should be the bare minimum in human rights for both migrant workers and the LGBTQ community and FIFA ran to get the nominating form.
So when Qatari officials decided it would be unseemly for fans to see alcohol at the stadiums – with some even consuming it, heaven forbid! – FIFA had no capacity to say no. Even if its spinelessness came at the expense of a loyal and lucrative partner.
Budweiser has been a major sponsor since the 1986 World Cup, and it paid a reported $75 million for the right to be FIFA’s exclusive beer provider. But the Qataris spent untold millions in bribes, and then spent billions building FIFA shiny new stadiums and hotels, and apparently that wins.
FIFA’s betrayal will cost it with sponsors, who will no doubt think twice before doing business with a partner that would sell them out for 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 is going to sign on for round two of this absurdity.
But Qatar won’t be unscathed by this, either.
The World Cup is supposed to be its coming-out party, the chance to show the 1.2 million fans who come and their friends back home what an attractive and cosmopolitan place Qatar is. That carefully constructed – some would call it artificial – image has now been shattered.
Qatar still harbors hope of hosting an Olympics, too, having been unsuccessful in its bids for the 2016, 2020 and 2032 Summer Games. Good luck with that now given some of FIFA’s sponsors are also big spenders in the Olympic movement. International Olympic Committee members are every bit as craven as their FIFA counterparts, but they’re not as naked in their greed.
By chasing Qatar’s cash, FIFA cost itself. Because it threw its weight around now, Qatar limited its influence in the future. No one wins in this debacle.
Except those of us who said putting the World Cup and the alcohol-fueled party that comes with it in a conservative Islamic country was a terrible idea, and are delighted to see FIFA and Qatar paying the price.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.