Qatar World Cup organizers have denied allegations they ran a “black operations” campaign in their successful effort to secure the 2022 tournament.
The bid team hired former CIA agents and a PR firm tasked with “pumping out fake propaganda about its main rivals, the United States and Australia,” according to emails from a whistleblower who had worked with the bid team on its World Cup campaign, leaked to the British newspaper The Sunday Times.
The Qatari Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees the planning and infrastructure of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, told CNN in a statement on Sunday that it “rejects each and every allegation put forward by The Sunday Times.”
“We have been thoroughly investigated and have been forthcoming with all information related to our bid, including the official investigation led by [American] attorney Michael Garcia,” the statement said, apparently in reference to a 2014 FIFA inquiry into allegations of bidding corruption.
“We have strictly adhered to all FIFA’s rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process,” it added.
The two-year FIFA inquiry cleared Qatar of allegations of corruption during its bidding for the World Cup.
One of FIFA’s key criteria for deciding which country hosts the World Cup is whether there is strong backing for the tournament domestically.
As part of the Qatar bid team’s alleged dirty tricks campaign, influential people were recruited to attack the bids in their own countries, according to emails leaked to The Sunday Times by a whistleblower from the Qatar bid team.
One of the emails, dated May 2010, was sent from communications company Brown Lloyd James (BLJ) to a senior advisor on the Qatar bid team, giving a report on a covert operation to undermine the candidacies of competitor countries.
CNN reached out to the London offices of BLJ, the firm mentioned in the newspaper’s report, but they were not available for comment.
The Sunday Times reported on one professor who reportedly was paid $9,000 to write a damning report about the economic cost of the World Cup in the US, which was then pushed out to international media.
Journalists and bloggers also were recruited to hype up negative stories, spy on rivals and create grassroots protests, according to The Sunday Times report.
The allegations add to the storm of controversy over Qatar being awarded the tournament, including a Human Rights Watch report last year that found migrant construction workers were laboring in potentially life-threatening heat and humidity.
At the time, Sheik Saif Al Thani, director of the Government Communications Office, told CNN in a statement that Qatar was committed to a labor reform program and was constantly reviewing its policies to ensure that “migrant workers receive the necessary on-site protections.”
CNN’s Alireza Hajihosseini reported from Abu Dhabi, Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. CNN’s Vasco Cotovio contributed to this report.