Soccer

Sepp Blatter admits ‘Qatar was a mistake’ on eve of World Cup

Sepp Blatter hands over the World Cup trophy to the Emir Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in 2010

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Sepp Blatter, the former president of Fifa, has admitted the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar was a “mistake”.

Blatter was Fifa president in 2010 when its executive committee controversially voted to award the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectfully.

Qatar has faced criticism over its treatment of migrant workers and discriminative LGBT+ laws, while the tournament also had to be moved to November and December due to heat.

Fifa’s decision to stage the World Cup in Qatar has also been the subject of scepticism after several members of the executive committee who voted in 2010 were later convicted or indicted in criminal or ethics cases.

Blatter, who maintains he did not vote for Qatar, was cleared of fraud charges by a Swiss court in July following a £1.7m payment to the former Uefa president Michel Platini but remains banned from football because of the incident.

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In an interview with Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Blatter’s first since he was acquitted of the charges, the 86-year-old said he wanted to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and the United States of America as a “gesture of peace” only for the executive committee to vote in favour of Qatar.

“The choice of Qatar was a mistake,” Blatter said. “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 long-standing political opponents had hosted the World Cup one after the other.

“It’s too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

Asked if he felt responsible for the decision, Blatter replied: “For me it is clear: Qatar is a mistake. The choice was bad. What I’m wondering: why is the new Fifa president [Gianni Infantino] living in Qatar? He can’t be the head of the local World Cup organisation. That’s not his job. There are two organising committees for this – a local one and one from Fifa.”

Blatter said he was glad the World Cup was going ahead in the country, despite his regret at the decision. “I can only repeat: the award to Qatar was a mistake, and I was responsible for that as president at the time,” he said. “Now that the World Cup is imminent, I’m glad that, with a few exceptions, no footballers are boycotting the World Cup.”

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However, Blatter said he did not regret the decision to award the World Cup to Russia, following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Blatter said he is no longer in contact with Vladimir Putin, who has backed the war in Ukraine, and rejected the argument that Russia had used the World Cup as a “propaganda platform”.

Blatter said: “Many others also use sport for political purposes. I’m not a judge and I don’t want to judge that.”

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