Thursday, July 31, 2014
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FIFA's Sepp Blatter: Qatar won 2022 World Cup bid with 'political influence'

FIFA president Sepp Blatter (right) with former Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hammam, who helped bring the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. (AP file photo)
FIFA president Sepp Blatter (right) with former Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hammam, who helped bring the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. (AP file photo)

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has long been known for having a loose tongue.

This time, the most powerful man in soccer may have told too much of the truth for his own good.

In an interview with German magazine Die Zeit, Blatter said Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup was won with the help of "political influences" from prominent figures in Europe.

"Yes, definitely there was direct political influences," Blatter said. "European leaders recommended to their voting members to vote for Qatar, because they have great economic interests with this country."

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  • Although Blatter did not name any names, it's not hard to guess two of them: UEFA president Michel Platini, the head of European soccer's governing body, and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

    Over the course of this year, France Football and England's Daily Mail have published stories investigating the deep links between Qatar's government, France's government, and the dramatic infusion of cash into French soccer. France Football even accused Sarkozy of directly colluding with Qatari leaders to ensure that Platini would vote for that nation's bid.

    In addition to the allegations of corruption, awarding the World Cup to Qatar has sparked a worldwide uproar because of the oppressive summer heat in that country.

    Blatter and other soccer higher-ups, including FIFA's chief medical officer, have called for moving the the tournament to winter. On Thursday, UEFA also backed the move.

    Though that would solve the weather problem, it would cause upheaval across the sport. Many leagues around the world, including all of the top leagues in Europe, play a winter-centric schedule. A World Cup in December or January would force a years-long reconfiguration of the soccer calendar.

    There are many people who want the tournament taken out of Qatar entirely. Ever since the hosting rights were won was won - indeed, before the vote to award them was even taken - there were many allegations of bribery and corruption in the bidding process.

    Two members of the FIFA Executive Committee were suspended in 2010 after the Sunday Times in London reported that they took $1.5 million each in bribes from Qatar's World Cup bid committee.

    More recently, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy asked for over $40 million in compensation from FIFA for its failed 2022 bid, and also damages relating to uprooting the soccer calendar. Not surprisingly, FIFA denied that request.

    FIFA's executive committee is scheduled to vote on the big move at its next meeting, which will take place in October. U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, a newly-elected member of FIFA's executive committee, has called for delaying the vote until the entire situation can be fleshed out.

    "I don’t see at this stage, frankly, how I or any member of FIFA’s executive committee could make a sensible decision," Gulati told the New York Times. "We don’t have enough information, and there are too many questions. I don’t see how anybody in a position of responsibility can take a position without some answers."

    The last force against moving the 2022 World Cup to winter could be television companies - and they could be a powerful force, given how much money they pay for broadcasting rights.

    Fox Sports, which paid $425 million for English-language rights to air the 2018 and 2022 tournaments in the United States, has said publicly that the value of its deal comes from playing the tournament in the summer.

    "FIFA has informed us that they are considering  voting on moving the 2022 World Cup,” Fox said in a statement to Bloomberg and other media outlets. "Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s."

    Just how much influence Fox really has with FIFA isn't clear. Given FIFA's history of doing whatever it wants, the governing body might not think much of being threatened with one breach-of-contract lawsuit.

    But if more TV companies around the world start making the same threat, FIFA might have to pay attention.

    That could be the only force stopping Blatter, Platini and Qatar from having their way.

    Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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