The irony of it. EVA KAILI, MEP, participating in the debate on fighting corruption in the
European Union hosted by Euranet, the leading radio network for EU news,
in 2014 when she was new in the European Parliament
by Jack Wright
With cautious optimism the Spaniards sent off their national football team, Los Rojos, to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s World Cup which was going to be held in Qatar between 20 November and 18 December 2022. Some reckoned Los Rojos could reach quarterfinals. Others dared hope for the semi-finals.
After all, Spain is no stranger to World Cup Championships. In 2010, in South Africa, Spain won the World Cup, making it one of the only eight countries in the world to do so.
Pitted on 6 December at the 2022 World Cup’s Round of 16 against Morocco, who many thought was the underdog, Spain racked up over 1,000 passes and almost won the match – but it didn’t. The 0-0 tie across 120 intense minutes had to be resolved by a dramatic penalty shootout where Los Rojos missed all three of its penalties.
Final score: a shocking Morocco 3, Spain 0.
And that was it. Spain kissed the World Cup goodbye.
Following their humiliating elimination so early in the game, there was no way but out for the Spanish national coach, Luis Enrique Martinez Garcia, who had been so sure that he was the right manager to give Los Rojos their second World Cup title. He resigned from his job almost as soon as the vanquished team set foot back on Spanish soil.
Fast forward to the World Cup Final on the 18th of December.
Argentina, as widely expected, ran away with the magnificent $20 million, 18-carat solid gold trophy at the expense of France, the defending champion. But unexpectedly France put up a heroic fight so that it was anything but a cakewalk for the Argentines. In fact, Argentina trounced France not during the main match but on penalties!
At the end of the contest, many enthusiastic sports commentators broke out into what could only be described as an unbridled euphoria, calling the match the most spectacular World Cup Final ever. “The best supermatch of all time,” as one raved.
But with the benefit of proper perspective, there was much to say about the darker side too. One commentator said the World Cup Qatar was “el Mundial de la vergüenza” or “The World Cup of Shame.” And for some very concrete reasons.
Now that the dust of the desert has settled, there’s nothing left in Doha but the bitter taste of defeat. Not the defeat from poor player performance on the football field but a defeat brought on by the failure of sportswashing to gloss over the Qatari image and present it as a modern state despite spending $220 billion on infrastructure just to host the World Cup. Think about it: the seven newly built football stadiums alone, said to be the most technologically advanced in the world, cost Qatar $6.5 billion.
If anything, the World Cup focused global attention on the grim reality of a desert sheikdom rich enough to bribe and corrupt susceptible countries and institutions as it corrupts itself with human rights abuses, particularly its crass disregard for the lives of impoverished migrant workers as well as gender equality, and its regressive policy vis-à-vis LGBTQ rights.
Some countered, though, that the authoritarian Islamic regime in Qatar isn’t so bad as the authoritarianism in Russia who hosted the 2018World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 1980 (as USSR), and in China where the Winter and Summer Olympics were held in 2022 and 2008 respectively.
Let’s face it. FIFA, like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whose members elect host countries for the Games, isn’t the paragon of integrity.
Apart from the aforementioned criticisms, some sports media have cited the extreme Qatari climate as not conducive to optimum playing and, moreover, Qatar has limited football history. (Qatari’s most popular sport is camel racing.) So, therefore, the Gulf state shouldn’t have been hosting the World Cup.
Among the debris from the Qatar fallout is the tarnished image of the European Parliament where center-left MEP Eva Kaili was stripped of her Vice-Presidential position on the grounds of bribery, money laundering and membership in a criminal organization. Evidence of criminal acts that the Belgian Federal Police have gathered from their investigation is twice as hard to stomach as the accusation of corruption and human rights abuses in Russia and China considering that the European Union has styled itself as the vanguard of clean democracy since its inception.
The investigation into the alleged crimes began during the run-up to the World Cup.
Apparently, Qatar’s attempt to buy influence in the European Parliament yielded some desired results, thus giving rise to the biggest scandal in the history of the European assembly. Bribes to influence EU policy toward the FIFA host – lately, Morocco has come into the picture too in the sportswashing scandal – included cash, luxurious holidays and expensive gifts.
Large amounts of cash have been found and confiscated by the Belgian Federal Police when they raided offices in the European Parliament and the residences of the suspects:
> €150,000 from the home shared by MEP Kaili with partner Francesco Giorgi, a European Parliament aide. (He claims to be “Policy Advisor – European Parliament” on LinkedIn.) Their bank account and a real estate property in Greece have been frozen.
> €600,000 from the home of former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, currently the head of human rights NGO Fight Impunity. Panzeri is one of the four arrested in what is now being called Qatargate. He was Giorgi’s former boss.
> €750,000 from the suitcase Alexandros Kailis, Eva Kaili’s father, was carrying at a hotel near the European Parliament in Brussels.
Kaili actively sought to soft-pedal the highly critical draft report of the European Parliament on Qatar’s human rights record, urging some of her parliamentarian colleagues to get in on the act. After meeting with the Qatari Labor minister, Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, Kaili declared that Qatar is a “frontrunner of labor rights.”
“I believe the World Cup for Arabs has been a great tool for… political transformation and reforms…,” she Twitted. Which Labor reforms are “recognized and respected” by the European Parliament. Or so she claimed.
She went to the extent of accusing some MEPs of “bullying” Qatar. These MEPs, according to Kaili, are guilty of heaping unfounded accusations of corruption on Qatar.
Efforts of Kaili and others at the European Parliament paid off; the European assembly passed a watered-down resolution on Qatar’s human rights transgressions before the World Cup opened.
Upbraiding the suspects, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, said: “Shame on you for violating trust of the people of Europe who expect you to fight for their interests. For violating the trust of your colleagues who work very hard and truthfully.”
Among the voices heard at the European Parliament was Iratxe García’s, MEP from the Socialists and Democrats group, Spain) stating that “this is a black, very sad day for European democracy”. She asked that the assembly spare no effort in determining “what has happened and make sure it does not happen again.” She announced that her political group will take part in the judicial proceedings as an injured party.
Kaili had also been an advocate of visa-free travel to Europe for the Qataris but the EU has now put the proposal in the back of the back burner.
Recently, Giorgi admitted his part in the illicit lobbying for Qatar, as well as for Morocco, but swears that his domestic partner is innocent and should therefore be released from detention. (Kaili was arrested by Belgian Federal Police on 9 December 2022.) He said he has been driven by avarice, accepting bribes that he didn’t even need.
Kaili remains in detention at this writing.
The other accused, including Kaili herself, claim they are innocent.
Qatar denies any wrongdoing.
Featured image/Euranet_plus, CC BY-SA2.0 via Flickr. Cropped.
World Cup 2010 champions/Christopher Badoux, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
Lusail Stadium/Hossein Zohrevana, CC BY4.0 via Wikipedia
Qatar Emir, Russian President and FIFA President/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office, CC BY4.0 via Wikipedia. Cropped.
European Parliament, Brussels/Treehill, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikipedia
Sack of euros/OpenClipart-Vectors, Pixabay
Panzeri/ David Iliff (diliff), CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
Metsola/European Parliament, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Kaili/Euranet_plus, CC BY-SA2.0 via Flickr. Cropped.
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