Book Review: The Ugly Game

WHEN QATAR WON THE RIGHTS TO HOST THE 2022 WORLD CUP, shockwaves were sent around the world. This was a country with little to no football footprint, where the terror risk was high and where summer temperatures hit 50 degrees. How Qatar managed to win the right to host the World Cup is the subject of The Ugly Game.

Football is a global phenomenon with a cultural footprint that few sports, indeed organisations in general, have. It has never been as popular with the world’s population as it is now. The FIFA World Cup is watched by more people globally than the Olympics.

But with the good that football provides, it also provides the bad.

The Ugly Game provides spectacular insight into how Qatar managed to win hosting rights for the 2022 edition of the World Cup. While it is no secret that corruption and bribery is rife within FIFA, this book details how FIFA views this type of behaviour as a standard.

Central to the story is Mohamed bin Hammam. He was once the Asian Football Confederation’s President and also at one point viewed by FIFA’s current President, Sepp Blatter, as his protégé. Hammam used his years of knowledge of how FIFA operated and how its Executive Committee operated in order to do the work that the Qatar bid committee was ill-equipped to do. More importantly, Hammam had to do this work behind the scenes as it would have been, or rather was an extreme case of, a conflict of interest.

Sepp Blatter (left) with one-time friend Mohamed bin Hammam.

Sepp Blatter (left) with one-time friend Mohamed bin Hammam.

Authors Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert detail in chronological order how Hammam orchestrated Qatar’s victory. Along the way, the book has several asterisk footnotes indicating the proclaimed innocence from those involved. More importantly, the book shows how Hammam had a small army of loyal servants, determined in completing his requests while viewing him as an almost god-like individual.

The Ugly Game provides fascinating insight into just how accepted corruption is within FIFA. Thanks to an anonymous whistleblower, Blake and Calvert are able to describe, in detail, the extraordinary lengths that Hammam himself went to secure important votes from members of FIFA’s Executive Committee, the group who would determine the World Cup host for 2018 and 2022.

FIFA's World Cup trophy.

FIFA’s World Cup trophy.

While it is no secret that FIFA is a rather shady organisation in this day and age, it is strikes as astonishing is that corruption and bribery is commonplace within the walls of FIFA. What will further surprise you is some of the doors that are opened as a result of the backgrounds of numerous FIFA officials that allow wheeling and dealing in the world of trade.

Hammam was able to traverse through the Executive Committee, seemingly collecting the votes he required by paying extraordinary sums to key figures. In any other organisation, he would have been found out and fired. At FIFA, this culture had been set by the top dog, President Sepp Blatter. It was Blatter’s mafia-like behaviour, loyalty through bribery, which has allowed the criminal culture to develop and prosper throughout the upper echelons of FIFA.

This book is not just about how Qatar won the right to host the World Cup, it is about Hammam’s friendship-turned-war with Blatter, his undying love of Qatar and its Emir and his ultimate dream of becoming FIFA President himself.

The Ugly Game is a spectacularly fantastic example of investigative journalism. It is essential reading for those with an interest in the machinations of FIFA, corruption and bribery, and how a mafia-like operation exists unto itself. In the wake of 2015’s FBI investigations into FIFA, this book is a must-read for football fans the world over.

Book:                 The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy The World Cup
Authors:            Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert
Publisher:         Simon & Schuster UK, 2015