FIFA President Sepp Blatter says awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was a “mistake”. But in an interview with Swiss public television on Thursday he rejected the idea that the competition had been bought by the rich Gulf state.
The RTS TV journalist’s softly delivered question about awarding the football World Cup to Qatar was direct: "Let’s go back to the fundamental problem. Playing matches in 50 degree heat. Was it not a mistake from the beginning?"
“Of course...people make lots of mistakes in their lives,” said Blatter. “The technical report of Qatar indicated that it was too hot in summer but the FIFA executive committee, with quite a large majority, decided it would be played in Qatar.”
But the 78-year-old Swiss head of football’s governing body, which has its headquarters in Zurich, refuted that the wealthy Gulf state had bought the World Cup.
“No, I would never say that. It was a political push, that of governments, both in France and Germany,” he declared. “We all know big French and German firms work in Qatar.”
The Swiss said he was not shocked by a meeting organised by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy before the venue was chosen, between UEFA President Michel Platini and Qatari officials including the prime minister.
But he admitted the procedure was strange: “I couldn’t see the president of Switzerland asking the FIFA president to come to Bern to tell him ‘you must vote for this or that’…”
No, no, no...
Fifa issued a statement on Friday insisting that Blatter was not questioning the choice of Qatar itself.
"As explained in his answer to the journalist, the FIFA President reiterated that the decision to organise the World Cup in summer was an “error” based on the technical assessment report of the bid, which had highlighted the extremely hot temperatures in summer in Qatar. At no stage did he question Qatar as hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup."
American lawyer Michael Garcia is leading an investigating team which is currently examining allegations about Qatar's selection as 2022 World Cup host as well as that of Russia for the 2018 tournament. Garcia is expected to report this year to FIFA’s ethics panel's judging chamber, which will decide sanctions.
In a related issue Blatter welcomed labour reforms announced by Qatar on Wednesday after persistent criticism from rights groups over its treatment of workers.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has said more than 1,200 men have died in preparations since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010. Qatar has said no construction workers have died working on a World Cup site.
Football samba and demos
The president of the Zurich-based FIFA said he was confident that this year’s tournament in Brazil would generate an atmosphere of “football samba”.
But road blocks and marches again hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as groups criticised spending on the upcoming World Cup tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June.
"The Brazilians are a bit unhappy as they have been promised a great deal. Brazil is the sixth biggest economy in the world and when Mr Lula was elected president he promised to improve the country. But to improve it requires the willingness of the people to work. Society has become divided,” said Blatter.
In the TV interview Blatter again hinted he intends to stand for a fifth term as the head of footballs’ governing body in next year's election.
“The candidacy opens in January 2016. Of course I want to stand again,” he said, adding that he didn’t think Platini would stand against him.
The 78-year-old was elected unopposed for a fourth term in 2011 after his rival Mohamed Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy after being accused of offering cash for votes. Bin Hammam was later banned for life.
Blatter initially said it would be his final term but since then has hinted at a change of mind.
swissinfo.ch and agencies