In an interview with Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Blatter said FIFA’s Executive Committee initially wanted to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to the U.S. “It would have been a gesture of peace if the two long-standing political opponents had hosted the World Cup one after the other,” Blatter said.
But before the 2010 FIFA Congress, Blatter says he was contacted by Michel Platini, the then-president of UEFA—the body which governs European soccer—who said that the plan would no longer work.
Platini, a French former soccer player, allegedly told Blatter he’d been invited to the Parisian residence of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy shortly after Sarkozy had met with the Crown Prince of Qatar. Blatter claims Sarkozy told Platini: “See what you and your colleagues from UEFA can do for Qatar when the World Cup is awarded.”
Blatter adds that Platini said to him: “Sepp, what would you do if your President asked you for something?” In December 2010, the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar instead of the U.S. following Sarkozy’s alleged lobbying. “But of course it was also about money,” Blatter said. “Six months later, Qatar bought fighter jets from the French for $14.6 billion.”
Sarkozy, who served as French president between 2007 and 2012, was convicted in 2021 in two separate corruption trials. Neither were related to the allegation detailed by Blatter. Blatter himself faced unrelated corruption charges over payments to Platini, but the pair were cleared by a Swiss court in July.
The accusation against Sarkozy comes less than two weeks ahead of the opening of the most controversial soccer World Cup in history. Human rights organizations have questioned Qatar’s suitability to host the world’s most viewed sporting event on the grounds of the country’s human rights record, its treatment of migrant workers, and its attitude towards same-sex relationships.
The PR disasters keep piling up even as the first game approaches. On Tuesday, a Qatari ambassador for the tournament told a German broadcaster that homosexuality is “damage in the mind,” before an official stepped in to curtail the interview. Western soccer icons including David Beckham and Gary Neville have also recently endured condemnation for making money from the competition.
Despite calling the Qatar World Cup an error—in part because the Middle Eastern country is “too small”—Blatter insisted giving the 2018 tournament to Russia was “definitely not a mistake.” He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him that “now we are friends” after Russia was given the tournament. “Putin is no longer the person I met then,” Blatter said. “I condemn the war instigated by Russia against Ukraine.”