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A fake news story claiming Arab nations had demanded that Fifa strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup appeared on a website designed to look like a credible Swiss news publication.
The story appeared to surface on ‘The Local’ website and said six nations called Qatar ‘the base of terrorism’.
Fifa have dismissed quotes that were accredited to their president Gianni Infantino.
The story was then widely reported by several major news organisations.
The Local has said that it was a copycat website and it “neither wrote, posted nor removed that article”.
The story first appeared on Saturday night and claimed that Infantino had told The Local that Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt wrote to Fifa to ask that the world football’s governing body remove Qatar as hosts.
Fifa have denied receiving any correspondence from the Arab countries. A spokesman said: “The Fifa president has never received such a letter and he has not made any comment on that.
“As already said, Fifa is in regular contact with the Qatar 2022 Local Organising Committee and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy handling matters relating to the 2022 Fifa World Cup.”
The fake website, posing as The Local had quoted Infantino as saying: “The countries warned Fifa of the risks threatening fan and player security in a country that is ‘the base and the castle of terrorism’.”
An earlier statement from the real Local website read: “We have neither seen the letter referred to in the article, nor sought nor received comment from any representative of Fifa on the issue.”
A further statement from publication added: “The article appeared on a fake site designed to look like The Local’s own site.
“There is no trace of it in our systems, nor any evidence that anyone tried to access our content management system”
The website where the false report appeared was registered last week to an address in Hawaii, however the personal details appear to be fictitious.
BBC Radio 5 live sports news correspondent Richard Conway
Qatar is in the midst of an acrimonious diplomatic dispute with its Arab neighbours and is the subject of a blockade.
The gulf state’s government has been accused of supporting Islamist opposition groups and extremists, allegations it vehemently denies.
So this latest episode of ‘fake news’ could well be related to the wider geopolitical troubles in the region.
However, we may never know who really was behind this attempt to undermine Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup.
The fact the original falsified report duped several mainstream media organisations – before corrections were made – should also concern those who worry about the how public opinion is being increasingly manipulated by those with political agendas.
In a wider context, with Qatar facing hostility towards its hosting of the World Cup both within the world of sport and amongst its neighbours, this may simply be a taste of what lies ahead in the years leading up to 2022.
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