World Cup Daily, Day 10
The whistleblower who alleged firsthand knowledge of Qatari bribes in the country's World Cup 2022 bid—and the fear she has lived in ever since.
DOHA, Qatar — I can remember it like it was yesterday. On December 4, 2010, just two days after Qatar won the right to host World Cup 2022, I sat across a table from a visibly nervous woman at a Starbucks who said she had information that the Qataris had bribed FIFA voters to help ensure they would win.
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Her name was Phaedra Al-Majid, and she said she feared for her safety. She had been the international media specialist for the Qatar 2022 bid until she had been fired in March 2010. And what she told me that day was explosive: That the Qatari bid promised payments for World Cup votes to the following members of the 24-member FIFA Executive Committee: Issa Hayatou (Cameroon), Jacque Anouma (Ivory Coast) and Amos Adamu (Nigeria).
“They got $1.5 million each for voting,” she told me that day in 2010. “I had translated in the discussions.” (Hayatou and Anouma speak French, as does Al-Majid, who grew up in France.)
The Nigerian, Adamu, was suspended by FIFA for his alleged vote-selling after being singled out in an exposé by The Sunday Times of London.
“I was in the meetings,” she told me. “I know exactly what happened. I didn’t give them the money, but I do know what we promised them and how we paid them.”
“Sheikh Mohammed [bin Hamad Al-Thani, the bid chair] was never in the meetings when money was discussed,” she went on. “It was me, Hassan [Al-Thawadi, the bid CEO], Ali [Al-Thawadi, the bid’s deputy CEO] and Mohammed Al-Wada [the media officer for Mohammad bin Hammam, the Qatari FIFA ExCo voter].”
The Qataris have always denied that they paid any bribes to FIFA officials (who have also denied the allegations). But in April 2020, as part of a years-long forensic investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said for the first time that the Qatari bid had bribed three FIFA voters for the 2022 World Cup. The U.S. said Qatar’s bribe recipients were three other FIFA voters from South America: Julio Grondona (Argentina), Nicolás Leoz (Paraguay) and Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil).
Grondona and Leoz are now dead. Teixeira, who denies the allegations, remains in Brazil, which doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the United States.
(That same U.S. DOJ indictment in April 2020 also said that Fox Sports had acquired the U.S. English-language World Cup rights from FIFA for 2015-22 using inside information relying on “loyalty secured through the payment of bribes.” The former Fox executives, Hernán López and Carlos Martínez, have pleaded not guilty. The case is still active, and the trial is scheduled to begin in January.)
In 2010 my magazine, Sports Illustrated, did not publish Al-Majid’s allegations because she was unwilling to put her name on the record at the time, citing a non-disclosure agreement she said she had signed that would have required her to pay a penalty of $1 million. Nor was she able to provide enough documentary evidence that would have made my editors comfortable enough to publish it. (She was the unnamed source for stories that did get published at the time in the Wall Street Journal and the Sunday Times.)
But she did put her name on her allegations for the first time in 2014 after she said FIFA had breached a confidentiality agreement with her in its investigation report.
“Do I regret being the Qatar whistleblower?” she told Sky Sports News in 2014, adding that she was receiving FBI protection after receiving death threats. “It’s cost me personally, it has cost me emotionally. I know for a fact I will be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life. It’s cost me my credibility, and most importantly it’s cost the security for both me and my children. However, I did witness something, and I do believe that I did have to say what I witnessed.”
Al-Majid appears extensively in the new Netflix documentary series FIFA Uncovered on the long history of corruption in the world soccer governing body. And just this month, Norway’s TV2 published a story interviewing Al-Majid, who flew to Norway for the interview rather than give the location where she’s living these days.
It’s hard to comprehend. In a matter of days, it will be exactly 12 years since I met Phaedra Al-Majid as she looked nervously around that Starbucks. And she’s still frightened, for herself and for her family.