Has Qatar Airways bought Airbus jets to secure World Cup 2022 bid?

While Qatar Airways is no doubt busy flying the world’s football fans to Doha for the FIFA World Cup, a number of reports have emerged suggesting that the airline’s purchase of Airbus aircraft in 2011 was part of a backroom deal with which the state of Qatar was supposed to secure its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Today we examine these allegations and the plane deal at the heart of the matter.


Alleged FIFA corruption

The presence of corruption at the highest levels of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is now widely recognized. This was backed up by whistleblowers, whistleblowers and a major FBI investigation. However, a bombastic documentary series has been released in recent weeks that explores this corruption in more detail and reveals the various ways in which the state of Qatar may have garnered enough votes to win its bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

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After Qatar was announced as the host country of the 2022 round of the global football event, a series of deals have emerged that have sparked speculation and suspicion. These include (but are not limited to) Qatar’s purchase of French soccer club Paris St. Germain and a major gas deal with Thailand. Of particular interest to Simple Flying, however, are suspicions that a major purchase of Airbus jets by Qatar Airways was the result of an informal agreement to get the vote of a member of France’s FIFA Executive Committee for Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar Airways A321neo

Photo: Airbus

The Airbus deal at the center of the allegations

In November 2010, an AFP report stated that Qatar Airways was interested in purchasing more Airbus A380s. These additions would be in addition to the initial 2001 superjumbo order, which consisted of two fixed and two options.

“We have ordered five A380s. We will definitely consider increasing this order” – Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways (November 2010) via AFP

Qatar Airways lived up to his words and went above and beyond to increase its A380 commitment. At the 2011 Dubai Airshow, the Middle East carrier signed with Airbus 80 A320neo (50 fixed and 30 options) and eight A380 (five fixed and three options). The deal was valued at around $6.4 billion at list prices. The A320neo order would eventually be adjusted to A321neos.

The timing of both the increased expression of interest for the A380 in 2010 and the confirmation of the aircraft deal in 2011 is suspect, given that Qatar announced on April 2

Getty Images Qatar Airways Boeing 777 FIFA World Cup Livery

Photo: Getty Images.

Political influence on sport

So how could there be a connection between an aircraft deal and the FIFA World Cup? Well, the decision on which country gets to host the World Cup depends on the votes of the FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) members. Allegations suggest Qatar has ‘secured’ the vote of French ex-co member Michel Platini.

On November 23, 2010, Platini had lunch with then-President Nicolas Sarkozy – an event also attended by Qatari officials. It was this meeting that was set to be part of a corruption investigation looking for Qatari influence on the French vote. In fact, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in an interview in 2018 that Qatar has “influenced Michel Platini at the time.” In the recent documentary series fifa revealed, Michel Platini is quoted as saying:

“The way I understood it, France would be happy if I voted for Qatar… I understood that, but no one ever asked me anything.”

David Conn, an investigative sportswriter writing for The Guardian, highlights the Airbus deal as one of the interesting coincidences that occurred around the time Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. “The decisions that lead to the World Cup going to Qatar are being made at the very highest levels of politics,” he said. Conn says in the documentation. If we were to view the situation with suspicion, a big plane deal would have been a boost to the French economy and aviation industry – especially as Airbus was struggling to get orders for the A380 at the time.

Michel Platini and Nicholas Sarkozy in 206

Photo: Getty Images

On the other hand…

While the allegations, or at least “suggestions”, are widespread, it must be noted that all the “evidence” to date regarding a link to Qatar Airways’ major Airbus order has been circumstantial.

When asked about the allegations in the documentary, Qatar’s Secretary General of the Supreme Committee of Delivery & Legacy, Hassan Al Thawadi, responded by saying:

“The facts are clear. Some things are extremely unrealistic… it feeds the cliché that Arab sheikhs throw money around, doesn’t it? That’s why this World Cup is important… we played by the rules. ..we won because of the merits of what we offer.”

If we were to play devil’s advocate, one could argue that Qatar Airways has been placing large orders with Airbus for years. In fact, many years before Qatar even had a chance to bid to host the World Cup, Qatar had ordered all types of aircraft from the European aircraft manufacturer, including the A340 and A350. Even as the A380 program struggled, Qatar Airways may have seen the value of the superjumbo and wanted to compete with Emirates, which had signed a massive $11.5 billion contract for 32 A380s.

Qatar Airways A380

The final result

While there is no hard evidence linking Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, to Qatar Airways’ massive order in 2011, one could argue that the presence of FIFA chief Michel Platini at a meeting between heads of state and leaders of Qatar and France seems somewhat strange and unusual. The timing of the deals, in which Qatar bought into various sections of French society and the French economy, heightens the suspicion.

Ultimately, Qatar Airways’ surface degradation problems would see its A321neo order scuttled, while the airline’s CEO Akbar Al Baker told Simple Flying the A380 purchase was a huge mistake. Of course, given the alleged corruption and political influence surrounding the 2022 World Cup, these words can now be interpreted very differently.

But what about you? How do you assess the allegations and circumstances surrounding Qatar’s bid for 2022? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Simple Flying has reached out to Qatar Airways for comment. However, airline officials declined to comment on the story.

Sources: New York Times, FIFA Uncovered, AFP via Geo News, Times Aerospace, WSJ, BBC

  • Qatar Airways Airbus A350-1041A7-ANN

    Qatar Airways

    IATA/ICAO Code:
    QR/QTR

    Type of airline:
    Full service carrier

    Stroke(s):
    Doha Hamad International Airport

    Founding year:
    1993

    Alliance:
    One World

    CHAIRMAN:
    Akbar Al Baker

    Country:
    Qatar

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