Handing the World Cup to Qatar was a “mistake” and a “bad choice” according to the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who has repeated claims the decision was a result of secret political pressure.
Blatter says the tournament was handed to the Gulf state because of the actions of the former Uefa president, Michel Platini, under pressure from France’s then president, Nicolas Sarkozy. “For me it is clear: Qatar is a mistake. The choice was bad,” Blatter told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. “At the time, we actually agreed in the executive committee that Russia should get the 2018 World Cup and the USA that of 2022. It would have been a gesture of peace if the two longstanding political opponents had hosted the World Cup one after the other .”
Asked why Qatar was a bad choice, Blatter made no mention of the human rights concerns that have hung over the tournament, but said: “It’s too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”
Blatter said that Fifa’s plans were disrupted by Platini, claiming the Frenchman was instrumental in directing four votes from European countries to Qatar, after pressure from Sarkozy.
“Thanks to the four votes of Platini and his [Uefa] team, the World Cup went to Qatar rather than the United States. It’s the truth,” Blatter said of the 14-8 voting result against the US in the final two.
“Platini told me he had been invited to the Élysée Palace, where French president Sarkozy had just had lunch with the Crown Prince of Qatar,” Blatter said. “Sarkozy said to Platini: ‘See what you and your colleagues from Uefa can do for Qatar when the World Cup is awarded.’ I then asked him: ‘And now?’”
According to Blatter, when he queried this, Platini’s response was: “’Sepp, what would you do if your president asked you for something?’ I then told him that the question didn’t arise for me because we don’t have a president in Switzerland.”
Platini was questioned by French officials in 2019 as part of an investigation into the 2022 bidding process. The former France player acknowledges that the meeting with Sarkozy took place but denies his votes were influenced.
In 2013 he told the Guardian: “I knew Sarkozy wanted the people from Qatar to buy PSG. I understood that Sarkozy supported the candidacy of Qatar. But he never asked me, or to vote for Russia [for 2018]. He knows my personality. I always vote for what is good for football. Not for myself, not for France.” Sarkozy has previously chosen not to comment on the World Cup allegations.
Blatter, in his first interview since he and Platini were acquitted of fraud in July – although that verdict is the subject of an appeal – also struck out against his replacement at Fifa, criticizing Gianni Infantino for living in Qatar in the buildup to the tournament.
Infantino moved from Switzerland to Doha last year and Blatter suggested the move could compromise Infantino’s decisions. “What I’m wondering: why is the new Fifa president living in Qatar?” Blatter said. “He can’t be the head of the local World Cup organization. That’s not his job. There are two organizing committees for this – a local one and one from Fifa.
“The FIFA president should have the ultimate oversight. An example: there is a proposal to set up a fund for the deceased workers and the bereaved. Qatar says no. What should Fifa say if their president is in the same boat as Qatar?”
Infantino has made a declared priority of increasing transparency within Fifa since Blatter’s 40-year era at the organization ended in several claims of corruption and the arrest of multiple Fifa officials by the FBI. Blatter, asked by Tages-Anzeiger of his opinion of Infantino, said: “He’s a disrespectful person to me.” Fifa has been approached for comment.