Argentina may win the FIFA World Cup on Sunday, and Lionel Messi may head home as the man who wrote poetry with his mesmerizing footwork. Still, the 2022 quest for the golden goblet will always be remembered for the alleged corruption that host Qatar introduced into the game.
Bob Dylan once said "money doesn't talk, it swears," and swore it did from the get-go as the oil-rich Arab Gulf state sought a place for itself in the community of nations. Money was what Qatar had plenty of, and I swear it did. Still, instead of a seat at the table of mature connoisseurs of the beautiful game, it will forever be remembered as the country that corrupted not just FIFA but also European parliamentarians (MEPs), who are now paying the price.
Greek MEP Eva Kaili was the most prominent among the four suspects charged after Belgian investigators found €1.5 million in two homes and suitcases. According to the BBC, prosecutors carried out a string of searches over several days and said cash worth about €600,000 had been found at the home of one suspect, €150,000 at the flat of an MEP and €750,000 inside a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room.
Kaili denied involvement in the alleged bribery scandal involving World Cup host Qatar at the European Parliament. Still, her fellow MEPs voted — by 625 to one — to strip Kaili of her role as one of its 14 vice presidents.
Parliament leader Roberta Metsola has spoken of "difficult days for European democracy" as Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.
Kaili and the other suspects arrested by Belgian police have been charged with "participation in a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption" and were supposed to appear for a pre-trial hearing in Brussels on Wednesday but failed to do so. The case will now be heard next Thursday, Dec. 22.
The Greek MEP has also been suspended from the European parliament's Socialists and Democrats Group and expelled from the centre-left Pasok party in Greece, where authorities have frozen assets belonging to her husband and immediate family members. The activities of a property company set up about two weeks ago by the MEP and her partner in Athens have also been frozen.
Kaili may be just the tip of the iceberg. She headed a committee, Delegation for Relations with the Arab Peninsula (DARP). She travelled to the Gulf country in early November, holding several meetings with the prime minister, labour minister and others.
In a speech to the European Parliament, she praised Qatar's labour reforms: "Today, the World Cup in Qatar is proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country, with reforms that inspired the Arab world."
Her praise for Qatar came notwithstanding the over 6,000 workers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan who died building her oriental vision of the Middle East.
Earlier in the month, she also supported visa liberalization for Kuwaitis and Qataris, allowing them to travel within the EU's Schengen visa without a visa. Someone rightly sang in the '60s:
"Money makes the world go round;
"That clinking clanking sound!
"Money! Money! Money!"
The question that remains unanswered is what the objective of Qatar was attempting to do what it is doing. Is it meddling in football for a fresh image when it once hosted the most notorious anti-West, pro-Islamist radicals, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who backed Al-Qaeda and ISIS? His name has not appeared in any report filed by Western reporters enjoying the hospitality of the Qatari Sheikhs.
Yusuf Al-Qaradawi was an Egyptian-born Islamist member of the fascist right-wing Muslim Brotherhood who used Qatar to spread his extremist jihadi ideology among Sunni Muslims around the globe.
Some other Gulf states designated Qaradawi's organization, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, as a terrorist organization. Until he died on Sept. 26, at the age of 96, Qaradawi was one of the world's most influential Sunni cleric and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ideas and fatwas are accused of being responsible for enabling and fostering jihadi extremism and Islamic terrorism.
The question that remains unanswered is this: If Qatar can buy the right to host the World Cup by allegedly buying and bribing Western politicians, then who's next? China? Saudi Arabia? How about Argentina after it is back in the hands of the Colonels?
There is a way out of this corruption. How about making democracy, free speech and gender equality a minimum pre-requisite for any country having the right to stage any international sports event? Is that too much to ask for?
After all, the modern games are rooted in ancient Greece, where the concept of democracy and the citizen originated, notwithstanding the Greek origin of the main accused in the Qatar scandal.
Tarek Fatah is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and a columnist at the Toronto Sun.