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Qatar World Cup official hits back at criticism

Doha (AFP) – A senior Qatar World Cup official took to social media Friday to re-assert the Gulf state will host the 2022 tournament, even as it faces a torrent of fresh criticism.

A defiant Nasser al-Khater, assistant secretary-general at Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, responded on Twitter after a noted critic claimed bookmakers had shortened odds on the World Cup being taken away from Qatar.

Earlier on Friday, Ghanem Nuseibeh had tweeted: “William Hill offering odds 25% chance FIFA 2022 will not be held in Qatar. 

“In business terms, 25% is ‘high risk’.”

That prompted an uncharacteristic outburst from Khater, who wrote: “The odds were 6000 to 1 against us winning the bid in 2009. Guess what happened on Dec 2, 2010.

He added: “Go figure, #mercenary.”

Nuseibeh had already provoked anger in Qatar last week when his company, Cornerstone Global Associates, produced a controversial report claiming there was an “increasing political risk” of Doha losing the World Cup because of the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the region.

Since June 5, Qatar has been isolated by neighbouring states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, over claims it supports extremism and is fostering ties with Iran.

Qatar denies all the charges, but the region is currently in the grip of its worst political crisis in years.

The Cornerstone report though did kick-off a tumultuous week for Qatar’s World Cup organisers.

On Tuesday, UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash said Doha’s hosting of the tournament should include a commitment to fighting extremism and added 2022 risked tarnishing football.

This followed remarks 24 hours earlier from a senior police official in Dubai which said the political crisis could be ended if Qatar gave up the World Cup.

This all prompted an angry response from Qatar’s government communications office which said the comments were motivated by “petty jealousy”, adding that the World Cup “like our sovereignty, is not up for discussion or negotiation”.

Any hopes Qatar had that this statement may have tempered criticism were dashed on Thursday when Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal probe into Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari chairman and Doha-based beIN Media chief Nasser al-Khelaifi over the sale of World Cup broadcasting rights.

Despite current events, experts still believe that Qatar will host football’s flagship tournament in 2022.

“The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is probably safe,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf analyst with the Baker Institute at the US-based Rice University, told AFP. 

“But there is a danger that a constant drip-drip of allegations will feed into the media and public narrative that Qatar’s critics are working hard to portray, namely that holding the World Cup in Qatar is a risk too far.”

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