ESPNFC's Phil Ball Accepted Free Trip to Qatar, Wrote Puff Piece, Irritated American Journalists


Qatar invited foreign journalists on an all-expenses paid trip to view World Cup preparations. ESPNFC’s Phil Ball participated and wrote a piece that was…rather favorable to the 2022 World Cup Host. A couple passages defy belief.

[UPDATEESPN has removed the story from its website.]

Ball glossed over FIFA’s own technical reports and extensive reporting about how Qatar won the 2022 World Cup bid. His rationale was that some Qataris went to Harvard.

Why bribe the officials if you know your sales pitch is the best? It makes no sense. The Harvard-educated Qataris at the head of this bid are many things, but they are not stupid.

Worth noting: Jeffery Skilling, former CEO of Enron and current prison resident, was also Harvard-educated.

Ball also attributed abusive Qatari labor practices and blatant disregard for human rights to passive policies and suggested viewing “the entire process ethically” may be too harsh.

“We are a young nation. We’re learning too.” There were no lame excuses proffered. They said they would put it right. The new workers’ charter, rather hastily assembled, is a step in that direction, but the systematic abuse of workers’ rights has not been an active Qatari policy. They’ve just looked the other way, which is just as bad, but they have the power and money to fix it almost overnight. There is no congress, no bureaucracy. At the swish of the emir’s gold pen, new laws come into effect.

They were there anyway, but the foreign middle men just ignored them, largely because they were able to. The Qataris are not malicious people, but the civic maturity of the nation is at best adolescent. One thing is a new futuristic concept, another is to see through the entire process ethically. It’s not as easy as it looks, and Qatar is hardly the only country with these problems. It’s just more under the spotlight.

Moralism about “bias” and “objectivity” in journalism, rightly or wrongly, is a peculiarly American concern. Specifically, it is a late 20th Century American concern. Mores elsewhere are a bit different. ESPN FC, though owned by ESPN, is an international website. The salient issue is not that a writer took an expenses-paid trip, which is noted at the beginning of the piece. It’s that the reasoning and conclusions reached are, at best, dumb and, at worst, heartless. No reader was misled about the nature of the reporting.