Michael Garcia: online attacks on Qatar ‘racist’

World Cup organizers are working to strike a balance between a diverse world culture and sports in Qatar, but one which the state’s policies will not change.

Michael Garcia, who is leading a FIFA ethics probe into World Cup payments to African officials, says that the former Qatari World Cup chief has been shocked by the hateful nature of the online support for Qatar’s bid and how some have compared the game to slavery.

Garcia believes that the taunting of the Gulf state and its government has a racist undertone.

“It really doesn’t feel different,” he said. “But what we have seen with the Qatari bid, is just an attack on a regime that now enjoys high power. If your attack is that your people are slaves, that they are oppressed and inferior and there’s an immoral system, then it’s a racist.

“I don’t doubt the sophistication and social commentary of some [of the online followers]. The letter of the law has not changed with it, and I feel that it’s becoming more accessible to those who don’t have a sense of just how sophisticated Qatar is.”

But, he said, the state’s policies remained a source of concern.

“They have a very tolerant culture, and if Qatar were willing to bring some values to their society that they had previously banned, whether it was music or religion, then that might be an interesting model for other countries,” he said.

He argued that Qatar’s openness and acceptance of others was “part of the reason it won its World Cup bid. They wanted to be part of a culture that was very multicultural and welcoming. And I don’t think it’s a disservice to say that the Qatari state can attract people from all over the world, at least in the early stages of the stage that they have picked.

“Do I think that’s morally questionable or discriminatory? No. I think it’s a man-made model of society which seeks to offer opportunities, and maybe here is where you can start to benefit the world.”

Garcia said that no charges will be brought against the former Qatari Football Association chief, Mohammed Bin Hammam, whose criminal bribery trial against him was halted because of a provision in the Qatari constitution. The 64-year-old moved to Qatar in 2005, but had been jailed and tried in Bahrain on charges relating to alleged links to a Shi’ite uprising and was considered by FIFA’s own ethics committee to be directly connected to the Qatari bid.

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