GENEVA (AP) — The selection of Qatar to host the World Cup was a mistake 12 years ago, then-Fifa President Sepp Blatter said on Tuesday, again citing the meeting between Nicolas Sarkozy and Michel Platini that influenced key votes.
“This is a country that is too small,” Blatter said of Qatar, which is the smallest country since the 1954 tournament in Switzerland. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”
32 teams will play 64 games at eight stadiums in and around Doha, which have been transformed since 2010 as a result of massive construction projects in preparation for the World Cup.
The games will begin on November 20 and around 1.2 million foreign visitors are expected to arrive in Qatar during the World Cup. Due to the limited number of places to live in the host country, some will come from neighboring states.
“It was a bad choice. And I was in charge of that as president at the time,” said Blatter, who has long said he voted for the United States. His bid was defeated by Qatar in the final round of a five-candidate competition for the 2022 host seat.
It became part of FIFA’s prejudice that the expected US victory shifted towards Qatar at a meeting hosted by Sarkozy in Paris the week before the December 2, 2010 FIFA executive committee vote.
The great French footballer Platini, at that time President of the UEFA European Football Union and Vice President of FIFA, was invited by the then President Sarkozy to his official residence. There was also the Crown Prince of Qatar, now Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
On Tuesday, Blatter reiterated his claim that Sarkozy was pressuring Platini and reiterated his version of a phone call Platini made to him after the meeting in Paris that the voting plan for the World Cup had changed.
“Thanks to the four votes of Platini and his team (UEFA), the World Cup went to Qatar and not to the USA. It’s true,” Blatter said of the 14-8 vote.
AT Associated Press comments in 2015Platini generally confirmed the significance of that meeting in Paris.
“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew it would be good,” Platini told AP in Zurich seven years ago. He admitted that he “could have told” US officials that he would vote on their 2022 bid.
Blatter has not specifically mentioned criticism of Qatar over labor and human rights issues since 2010.
However, he questioned why his successor as FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, moved to live in Qatar at least last year.
Blatter noted growing calls from civil rights groups and several FIFA member federations, including the US and England, for a compensation fund for the families of dead or injured workers. The Qatari government is resisting the calls and calling them a “publicity stunt”.
“What can FIFA say if its president is in the same boat as Qatar?” Blatter said Infantino chose to live in Doha.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the interview.
Blatter, who traveled to Moscow during the 2018 World Cup as a guest from Russia when he and Platini were banned from football by FIFA, told Swiss newspaper reporters that he would be watching games on TV in his Zurich apartment in the coming weeks.
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