GENEVA (AP) — Choosing Qatar to host the World Cup 12 years ago was a mistake, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Tuesday, once again turning key votes for Nicolas Sarkozy and Michel Platini recalled the meeting between
Blatter, 86, spoke to Swiss newspaper Tamidia in his first major interview since Platini’s acquittal in July of FIFA corruption charges following his trial in federal criminal court.
“It’s a small country, the smallest host in terms of size since the 1954 tournament in Switzerland,” Blatter said of Qatar. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”
The 32 teams will play 64 matches in eight stadiums in and around the city of Doha, which have been transformed since 2010 by major construction projects in preparation for the World Cup.
The games begin on November 20, with around 1.2 million international visitors expected to visit Qatar during the World Cup. With limited places to stay in the host country, some will travel from neighboring countries.
“It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for it as president at the time. Its bid beat Qatar in the final round of the five-candidate race to host 2022.
It became part of FIFA’s logic that the expected US victory was voted on by FIFA’s executive committee a week before 2 December 2010 at a meeting hosted by Sarkozy in Qatar.
French football great Platini, head of the European football governing body UEFA and vice president of FIFA, invited the then president of the country, Sarkozy, to his official residence. The Crown Prince and now Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani was also there.
Blatter reiterated his claim on Tuesday that Sarkozy pressured Platini and again gave Platini the details of the phone conversation after the Paris meeting that changed the World Cup voting plan.
“Thanks to Platini and his (UEFA) team’s four votes, the World Cup went to Qatar instead of the United States. That’s true,” Blatter said of the 14-8 vote.
In comments to The Associated Press in 2015, Platini broadly confirmed the importance of the meeting in Paris.
“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be better,” Platini told an AP reporter in Zurich seven years ago. He admitted that he had “probably” told US officials that he would vote for their 2022 bid.
Blatter has not specifically criticized Qatar on labor and human rights issues since 2010.
However, he questioned why his successor as FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, has moved to live in Qatar for at least the past year.
Blatter noted growing calls from rights groups and FIFA’s member federations, including those in the US and UK, to set up a compensation fund for the families of workers who have died or been injured. The Qatari government has resisted these demands, describing them as a “public stunt”.
“What can FIFA do if the president is in the same boat as Qatar?” Blatter said of Infantino that he prefers to live in Doha.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the interview.
Blatter, who visited Moscow as a guest of Russia during the 2018 World Cup while he and Platini were suspended by FIFA, told Swiss newspaper reporters that he would be in Zurich in the coming weeks. Watch the game on TV in your apartment.