The US capital is hosting an anti-Qatar conference this week. The programme is secret and it’s an invitation-only event. The organisers – the Middle East Forum – say that it’s not open to the public, citing security reasons. And lurking in the shadows is Jaimie Fuller, co-founder of New Fifa Now.
By Andreas Selliaas and Pål Ødegård
Photo: Wikipedia/Creative commons
Rome (Josimar). This week European football leaders are gathering in Rome for the 43rd Uefa Congress where Paris Saint-Germain chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi controversially is expected to be confirmed as member of the Uefa executive committee as one of two representing the European Club Association (ECA).
It’s controversial because PSG under Al-Khelaïfi’s chairmanship has been creative in avoiding Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the Football Leaks documents revealed. PSG are now being investigated by Uefa for possible violation of the FFP regulations. Al-Khelaïfi is also under investigation by the Swiss federal police, who suspect he was involved in a bribery scheme including former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke.
Furthermore, Nasser Al-Khelaïfi is a Qatari cabinet member without portfolio. In May 2017, deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko was blocked from running for re-election to the Fifa Council after failing to pass an eligibility check. The reason was that he was a minister in the Russian Government, contradicting article 19 and 23 in the Fifa statutes regarding undue influence from third parties.
Friend or foe?
At the same time as the Uefa congress, a secretive conference about Qatar will take place in Washington DC. The Middle East Forum is the organisers of a conference called “Qatar: U.S. Ally or Global Menace?”. There is no official programme, it is an invitation-only event and, citing security reasons, not open to the public.
According to the website of the Middle East Forum, the “topics will include Qatar’s lobbying and disinformation campaigns; its funding of Islamic extremism; its global media empire; its cyber espionage and election interference; its alliance with Iran and Turkey; and the grand Fifa soccer fraud.”
The only information revealed of the programme is that it will feature leading members of Congress, well-known foreign affairs experts, officials from the defence and intelligence communities, and football stars. It’s still unclear how many have accepted the invitation, and who they are.
Josimar have been made aware that PR company Bluelight Strategies and Jaimie Fuller are behind the conference in Washington – and that it has many similarities with a conference hosted in London last spring.
On 31 May 2018 the Foundation for Sports Integrity (FFSI) was launched at the fashionable Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square in London. The founder of the FFSI (later renamed to SKINS FFSI) was Jaimie Fuller, chairman of SKINS, a sportswear company, and one of the co-founders behind the initiative New Fifa Now, along with Australian whistleblower Bonita Mersiades and British MP Damian Collins. Bluelight Strategies also helped to promote the conference in London to international journalists.
By launching a new foundation, Fuller’s intention, he said, was to put more emphasis on sports governance and integrity. According to the FFSI website (which is now down), the Foundation’s aim was “to fund research into sports corruption and related matters, develop campaigns to inform and educate individuals and organisations, and stage events to discuss and highlight wrongdoings by the custodians of sport.”
The big question, however, after the launch in London was who was funding the foundation and the conference. Partly because the launch was lavish and partly because it was hard to get information about who the backers of Jaimie Fuller’s initiative were. It would seem obvious that an initiative that demands integrity and transparency in sports also displays the same qualities in its own business.
Fuller told Josimar at the time that the sponsors had requested complete confidentiality as a condition, but stressed that neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were behind it. Fuller’s company SKINS has recently been declared bankrupt, prompting speculations that spinning for hire is now the Australian’s new livelihood. Josimar has repeatedly tried to contact Jaimie Fuller, without success.
The list of invited speakers at the Four Seasons in London was impressive. A Skype interview with the Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory, was the main attraction.
Some of the topics under discussion were:
“Fifa Undermining the Beautiful Game,” questioning the lack of public confidence in Fifa (panellists: British MP Damian Collins, US Soccer hero Hope Solo and former Fifa presidential candidate Jerôme Champagne),
“An Exercise in Corruption: The World Cup Process”, questioning the selection of Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts in 2018 and 2022 (panellists Harold Mayne-Nicholls, Simon Johnson, Andrew Jennings and Jens Weinreich),
“Sports Responsible for Safeguarding Human Rights?” with strong emphasis on the human rights situation in Qatar (panellists Geoffrey Robertson, Jaimie Fuller, Alan Mendoza and Husain Haqqaini)
“The Future of Fifa: What Could and Should be Done?”, also with a strong focus on Qatar (panellists Bonita Mersiades, Philippe Auclair, Greg Dyke and Louis Saha).
Josimar have been made aware that many of the same speakers are invited to speak at the conference in Washington DC., though the former US national women’s team goalkeeper Hope Solo declined the invitation, according to our sources. Donald Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly is one of the invitees, as is the Republican senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton.
One who will attend is the former president of the Chilean football association, Harold Mayne-Nicholls. He was heading Fifa’s bid inspection team for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and delivered a report to Fifa’s executive committee which ranked Qatar the lowest of the hopeful hosts.
Pro-Israel and pro Alt-Right
Little information regarding the conference in Washington DC is available. According to The Middle East Forum the co-sponsors of the conference include Jaimie Fuller’s Foundation for Sports Integrity, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, CAMERA, Endowment for Middle East Truth, Fahmy Foundation, Haym Salomon Center, Iranian American Forum, Islamic State of Iran Crime Research Center, Jewish News Syndicate, Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, Research Institute for European and American Studies, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Security Studies Group, Shurat HaDin, Strength to Strength, The Lawfare Project, and The Phyllis Chesler Organization.
When looking into the profile of the staff of the Middle East Forum, and their articles, a clear anti-Obama and pro Alt-Right narrative emerges. An example can be read here, including a reference to the former US diplomat Alberto Fernández, who will also speak at the conference in Washington D.C.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is listed as Middle East Forum’s ‘research fellow, Jihad intel’ is. Coined a ‘terrorist hunter’, the Iraqi-born journalist has testified in the British House of Commons about various anti-regime fractions in the Middle East, and has been published in many prestigious media outlets. Al-Tamimi generated controversy in 2014 when it was revealed that he gave vocal support to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, while publicly claiming to work against them. Sites like Bellingcat and Jihadology blacklisted him, the former even removing old articles with his byline.
The president of Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, has according to his bio on the site, been coined “perhaps the most prominent US scholar on radical islam” by the Washington Post, and has been an ardent advocate against what he sees as an Islamic conspiracy against the Western world since the eighties.
Josimar have repeatedly tried to get in touch with Middle East Forum. The invitations to the Qatar conference was sent out from a service with no option to reply directly, but the following can be read at the bottom: “Questions about the event? Contact the organizer at @firstname.lastname@example.org”. The account belongs to Tricia McNulty, listed among the ME Forum staff as ‘Program Manager’. Questions sent to this address still haven’t been answered.
On Middle East Forum’s web page, an article published on 4 February, the director Gregg Roman is listed as the contact for more information and press inquiries. Mr. Roman was eventually reached, and could say that they fear sabotage from the Qataris, and that this is the reason for the secrecy shrouding the conference. He added that he could give more information on the day of the conference, and referred to the live stream link to the conference.
Adding to the mystery of this conference, even the location of the conference is hush-hush. Why a pro-Israeli lobby organization like Middle East Forum has to fear Qatari sabotage in the US capital is unclear. The pro-Israeli lobby in Washington is large and influential, and just one day before the conference, the US senate approved a bill designed to protect Israel from critics.
According to Josimar’s sources the venue is to be in exhibition facilities in the 7th floor at the still unveiled new spy museum in Washington D.C.
The big question now is whether there will be a small number of journalists present, hand-picked and also very critical towards Qatar, as was the case in London last year.
Moreover, that the financial backers of the conference will, like the conference in London, be leaning towards UAE and Saudi Arabia as a part of the great power struggle between the bitter rivals in the Middle East.
Although it has many similarities to the conference in London last year, there are some significant differences.
The PR battle
First of all, there’s no coyness around its anti-Qatar focus this time. There’s also no indication how much focus there will be on football and the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.
One of the invited, Bonita Mersiades, a former member of Australia’s failed bid to host the 2018 or the 2022 Fifa World Cup, and a whistleblower who exposed systemic corruption in this bid process, implied that the Washington DC conference is less about football than about discrediting Qatar, when talking to Josimar.
“My focus in speaking out has always been the ‘Fifa way’, and the culture and environment set by Fifa that allowed what happened to happen,” she told Josimar. She declined the invitation this time.
The conference in London last year and in Washington DC this week is part of a grand PR battle between Qatar and its enemies, where the sports field has become their playing field.
In the 19 months since Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Arab nations started their blockade of Qatar, the World Cup 2022 has become a proxy in the broader geopolitical dispute transfixing the Gulf. Qatar’s neighbours are aiming to take away the tournament form Qatar or, failing that, to humble Qatar by forcing it to share the event with its political enemies.
The Gulf dispute has added a new dimension to a specialized industry in which consultants and other insiders can earn millions of dollars for their efforts to shift public opinion in favour of the nations that finance them, or against those countries’ rivals. At times, that hidden work has drawn journalists, government officials and even President Trump into the fight, according to The New York Times.
The campaign against Qatar 2022 was revealed when the emails of the UAE’s ambassador to Washington was stolen and released in 2017.The emails revealed a broad influence campaign financed by the UAE that hoped to use American journalists and think tanks to position Qatar and its World Cup in a negative light. The secrecy and bias of the conference in Washington DC this week must be seen as a part of this campaign.
Most may agree that something murky is going on in Qatar, but that also goes for their adversaries.