Focus on football, not Qatar: FIFA boss

Bribes at the World Cup? Qatar's captain almost burst out laughing.

An incredulous Hassan Al Haydos smiled broadly when the rumour was put to him: Qatar is paying Ecuador to lose the cup opener.

On Al Haydos' right flank at the pre-game media conference in the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha was his coach, Felix Sanchez.

He failed to see any funny side to the unsubstantiated rumour sweeping the internet.

"There is a lot of disinformation," Sanchez told reporters

"The internet is great. But it's also very dangerous ... nobody will be able to destabilise us with this criticism and statements."

Qatar's World Cup starts on Sunday night (Monday morning AEDT).

And powerbrokers hope kick-off is also the final whistle of the host nation being a political football.

"As soon as this ball rolls, people will concentrate on that," FIFA president Gianni Infantino, dramatically holding a ball, told reporters.

"Because that is what people want."

It's certainly what Infantino wants. And Qatari coach Sanchez.

"The best thing that can happen to a team and a footballer is to keep calm, avoid any sort of rumours and noise around you," Sanchez said.

"Obviously we don't like people criticising our country but ... we kept calm."

The Barcelona-born Sanchez, who has worked in Qatar for 16 years and coached the nation's senior team since 2017, was talking football.

But he could well have been talking about his adopted nation.

Keep calm and carry on, despite what Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, described as "an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced" in a televised speech on October 25.

The hereditary emir carries absolute power over government decisions and follows an ultraconservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism.

And while Qatar morphed into modernity from a natural gas boom in the 1990s, there's pent-up pressure from within to remain faithful to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots.

The Bedouins, nomadic tribes from the Arabian desert which extends into Qatar, literally set up shop in Doha centuries ago.

Their favoured site was Souq Waqif, where they would stand and sell wares - souq means standing in Arabic, waqif means marketplace.

The original souq was lapped by the waters from the Persian Gulf. Now, it's bordered by the Corniche, a seven kilometre long concreted promenade along Doha Bay.

The new Corniche and the old souq are focal points for an estimated 1.2 million visitors to Qatar for the World Cup, the first held in the Middle East.

Infantino wants their focus on football.

But the lead-in to Qatar's cup has been dominated by what he described as a hypocritical spotlight from the western world.

Human rights abuses; the illegality of same-sex relations; deaths of thousands of migrant workers who built cup infrastructure; limited alcohol.

All have been under what Infantino said was a western microscope with racist undertones since Qatar won hosting rights in 2010.

"Help, don't divide. Try to unite. The world is divided enough," he said.

"We are organising a World Cup, not a war."

Yet propaganda abounds.

Qatar's cup organisers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, have admitted paying about 400 people from all 32 competing nations to be social media influencers.

The committee paid their travel and hotel expenses.

In exchange, the visitors signed a code of conduct, agreeing to promote the tournament with positive social media posts and re-share other glowing online comments.

The committee also organised locals, wearing kits of competing nations, to enthusiastically greet teams on arrival.

The move was criticised for those involved being phony fans of nations including England.

"They went to see the teams and what happened when they did: 'well they don't look like English, they look like Indians'," Infantino said.

"Can someone who looks Indian not cheer for England? Or Spain? Or Germany?

"You know what this is, it's racism. Pure racism.

"Everyone in this world has a right to cheer for who they want."

Infantino said westerners should respect Qatar. And if concerned by anything, speak with, not down at, the host nation.

"The only way of obtaining results is by engaging, dialogue, not by hammering, insulting," he said.

"When your child does something bad at school and you tell him 'you're an idiot, you're useless' and you put him up in his room, what do you think his reaction will be?

"If you engage with him, he will recognise that and he will be better.

"I don't want to give you any lessons of life. But what is going on here is profoundly unjust.

"If people think hammering and criticising will achieve something, it will do exactly the opposite."

Infantino said Qatar's World Cup would be "the best ever".

But his predecessor as FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, has gone on record describing it as a mistake to award Qatar the cup.

In 2010, the 22 members of FIFA's executive committee cast votes.

In the final deciding round, Qatar - a nation which had never competed at the cup - won with 14 votes to the USA's eight.

Since, precisely half of the 22 FIFA executives who voted have been prosecuted, banned for life, suspended or fined for corruption.

Bribes at the World Cup? Enough to make many almost burst out laughing.