As if it has not already received enough bad press, there are reports that a rich Qatari citizen has bribed Ecuadorian football players to lose the World Cup opening game to Qatar on Sunday. According to the regional head of the British Center for Middle East Studies, Amjad Taha, eight Ecuadorian players were promised $7.4 million to lose the game, allowing the host team to score a second half goal for a 1-0 victory.
“I have this information on good authority but I cannot confirm it absolutely,” Taha said. “I hope it is false and that sharing it will disrupt the plan if it is true. The world must come together to oppose FIFA [International Federation of Association Football] corruption.”
FIFA and Ecuadorian football officials have called the game-fixing claim “absurd and without basis” and no other authority has backed Taha’s charge.
Several football experts say, however, that the rumor should be fully vetted prior to the opening match. “It is not out of the question, given the corruption and scandal that has surrounded this World Cup, that an attempt would be made to throw the match,” says British sports columnist Fred Morrison. “Qatar has more money than it has talent and it would be embarrassing for the home team to lose with the whole world watching on Sunday.”
Morrison adds that he doubts Taha’s claim. “It is hard to believe that eight players could be approached without one of them revealing the plot. These are not poor Ecuadorians, they are well-paid professionals, and they know they carry the honor of their country on their shoulders.”
In the lead-up to the World Cup, Qatar has been widely criticized for human rights abuses of foreign workers and its treatment of women and homosexuals. There have also been credible but unconfirmed charges that Qatar bribed former FIFA officials to host the event.
In consensus world football rankings, Ecuador is 44 while Qatar is 50.