Greg Clarke’s FA Charm Offensive in Qatar: What Could Possibly go Right?

Greg Clarke’s FA Charm Offensive in Qatar: What Could Possibly go Right?

Monday, 26 February, 2018 - 11:30
Greg Clarke was shown around the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, the first completed venue for 2022 World Cup matches. Photograph: Getty Images for Qatar 2022
London - Barry Glendenning
Given Greg Clarke’s track record in the field of diplomatic relations, the obvious question to ask upon learning the Football Association chairman was taking in Qatar as part of the organisation’s global charm offensive wasn’t so much “what could possibly go wrong?” as “what could possibly go right”?

Following his handling of the Eni Aluko racism scandal and subsequent bravura performance before a government select committee tasked with getting to the bottom of it, December saw reports that Clarke had already visited two thirds of Uefa territories as part of a global outreach programme aimed at disabusing his counterparts in assorted national football associations of the notion that the FA is arrogant.

Illegal merchandisers and bootleggers were already understood to be printing up souvenir T-shirts to knock out on the Asian and African legs of a world tour that last week rocked up in Qatar, where Clarke was shown around Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium.

While details from official reports on Clarke’s visit to the gulf state are sketchy in places, we can only assume he was also cajoled by his host into staging a meet‑and‑greet in the labour camps housing the migrant workers who built the 40,000-capacity arena and its surrounding Aspire Zone.

Whether or not he was shown the exact spot from which the British construction worker Zac Cox plunged to his death 13 months ago while working on the stadium remains unclear, although considering there has still been no official account from the country’s authorities regarding the death, we are left to speculate that this delicate subject may not have been raised.

Veronica Hamilton-Deeley, the British coroner who will lead the inquest into Cox’s death, has certainly found authorities in Doha to be decidedly coy when it comes to talking about the accident that claimed the 40-year-old’s life. “It has proved almost impossible to get information,” she said in November. Considering Qatari public health officials have failed to respond to requests for information about the causes of deaths of an estimated 2,000 or more migrant construction workers since 2012, one imagines Hamilton-Deeley is near the back of a very long queue.

In a report published in 2016, Amnesty International revealed that those who laboured on the renovation of the stadium had been subjected to a wide range of exploitative practices including “high recruitment fees for which many took out loans; false promises about the pay and type of work on offer; passport confiscation; dirty and cramped accommodation; and threats for complaining about their conditions”. On the plus side, at least it was finished on time, which is more than can be said for the FA’s equivalent vanity project at Wembley.

There the lack of similarities between the two stadiums does not end. Unlike Wembley, the Khalifa Stadium will get to host World Cup matches in the foreseeable future and cynics have suggested that as well as endeavouring to shed the FA’s reputation for arrogance, the man who recently dismissed accusations of institutional racism against the FA as “fluff” is brown-nosing his way around the world in the hope of winning friends and influencing people ahead of an English bid for Fifa’s 2030 global football jamboree.

We have been here before. In 2010, eight days before the vote to see where the 2018 World Cup would be played, the FA agreed to play Thailand in a friendly in order to win their support for England’s doomed bid. The offer was subsequently rescinded and later described as “a form of bribery” by the bid team’s own leader, Geoff Thompson. While there is no suggestion of any impropriety on Clarke’s part, it has not gone unnoticed that after signing the vaguely titled “memorandum of understanding” with the Qatar FA in Doha, the FA announced it would “look at the possibility of organising friendly matches across the different age groups”.

While it is far too early to suggest that history is starting to repeat itself, it certainly seems to be humming the opening bars of a spookily similar tune. Quite apart from the dubious morality of Clarke’s latest jolly, putting politics before principles has backfired spectacularly on the FA before.

A graduate of law from Sheffield University, who visited his alma mater to pick up his degree certificate while being entertained by Clarke on a visit to England last November, Hassan Al-Thawadi is the secretary general of Qatar’s preposterously titled Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy and was seen beaming alongside Clarke as they exchanged football shirts and pennants during a photo-op which served to publicise the English FA’s tacit endorsement of a regime that considers homosexuality illegal.

The Guardian Sport

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