Emirates Airlines has withdrawn its sponsorship of FIFA, immediately ending any involvement it might have had with the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.
Here’s their statement:
“This decision was made following an evaluation of FIFA’s contract proposal which did not meet Emirates’ expectations.”
Most are taking that to read Emirates is uneasy about corruption claims surrounding the bid process for the World Cup, particularly the 2022 tournament which will be held in Qatar. Emirates is based in Dubai, UAE, a short distance just across the Gulf from Qatar, and the two countries have something of a fractious relationship when it comes to wooing business and major events.
On the construction side, Qatar is struggling to get its affairs in order and just this morning, news broke that it will not be able to keep its promise to hold the 2022 World Cup in summer. It looks like FIFA will now have to either negotiate with the big European leagues to disrupt their football season, or with the IOC over a schedule clash with the Winter Olympics.
Its original $200bn proposal has already seen 12 stadiums cut to eight, and it’s continually fending off accusations of poor workers’ conditions and a mounting death toll which at last report sat around 900.
It’s a mess. There’s even talk of Qatar losing the World Cup altogether.
Dubai, perhaps sensing an opportunity, isn’t helping. It’s gunning for the 2019 Asian Cup football tournament and the T20 World Cup cricket tournament in 2018, which will stretch construction resources already under huge pressure in the area.
And in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a recently approved plan to build 11 45,000 seat stadiums across the kingdom in the next two years will most likely (some say not entirely accidentally) take those resources to breaking limit.
Now, with Emirates all but saying Qatar’s World Cup is too dirty for them to be associated with, things might get serious at FIFA’s end of operations. The airline was one of FIFA’s six major sponsors. Another, Sony, has hinted but not confirmed it will soon follow suit.
Of course, the sheer exposure of being associated with the biggest sporting event on the globe is always going to be FIFA’s biggest trump card. Waiting in the wings to fill both slots is Emirates’ rival Qatar Airways and Samsung would most likely step in for Sony.
But there are signs FIFA is slowly but surely realising that it can’t keep operating in secrecy forever and the money will simply flow unhindered. It’s already caved in to demands it release a version, albeit limited, of former New York City district attorney Michael Garcia’s findings on the 2022 bidding process. Its first option was to keep the entire report under wraps.
So far, Qatar has kept the increasing criticism of its bid at bay.
But if a decision is to be made about its ability to make the 2022 World Cup a winner, it will have to come sooner rather than later, and Emirates’ decision to walk away from FIFA due to Qatar’s involvement couldn’t have dropped at a more critical time.