Ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s criticism of World Cup in Qatar comes 12 years too late


It’s a little late for Sepp Blatter to try and position himself on the right side of history.

Twelve years too late.

FIFA’s former president, who built up no small amount of influence during his nearly two decades in power, said in an interview published Tuesday that it was “a mistake” in 2010 to award Qatar the World Cup.

“It is too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for it,” Blatter told the Swiss newspaper group Tamedia.

Blatter is not wrong in saying this. Smaller than the size of Connecticut, Qatar is resorting to using tents and cabins to accommodate the 1.5 million visitors expected during the World Cup, which begins Nov. 20. But even that isn’t enough!

Accommodations are so scarce some fans are staying elsewhere in the region and will “commute” to Qatar on game days. Only visitors with a match ticket are allowed into the country during the group stage; Qatar officials didn’t announce until Monday, a mere 13 days before the tournament kicks off, that all fans would be welcome during the knockout rounds.

The World Cup starts Nov. 20 in Qatar.

These are not new challenges, however. Qatar didn’t shrink over the last decade. The size of the World Cup field didn’t change. Fans from across the globe have been flocking to the World Cup in droves for 50 years now.

Blatter and his FIFA brethren knew this. Just as they knew about Qatar’s abusive system for foreign workers, who would be essential for stadium and infrastructure construction projects. Just as they knew about Qatar’s horrible treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and women. Just as they knew about Qatar’s summer heat, which made a World Cup in its traditional June and July window impossible.

They knew all this. And they awarded Qatar the World Cup just the same.

“It was a bad choice,” Blatter said. “And I was responsible for that as president at the time.”

Though this was Blatter’s strongest criticism of the upcoming World Cup, his ambivalence about Qatar has long been a matter of record. He has let it be known that he voted for the United States and, in the interview with Tamedia, he again tried to pin the blame on former European football chief Michel Platini.

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Platini told The Associated Press in 2015 that he “might have told” U.S. officials he planned to vote for their bid. He changed his mind after a meeting with then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who is now Qatar’s emir, a week before the vote to award the World Cup.

The final vote of FIFA’s Executive Committee was 14-8 in favor of Qatar over the United States.

“Thanks to the four votes of Platini and his (European team), the World Cup went to Qatar rather than the United States. It’s the truth,” Blatter said.

But there were 10 other Executive Committee members who voted for Qatar, and there’s been no indication Blatter did much to try and influence their vote.

As FIFA president for 12 years at that point, having overseen astronomical growth in revenue and having made a point to be more inclusive to African and Asian nations, Blatter had significant leverage. If awarding Qatar the World Cup was the “mistake” and “bad choice” he now says it was, he could have – and should have – used his sway to ensure a different outcome.

Sure, Qatari organizers and those friendly to them were splashing cash around. But corruption is business as usual at FIFA; by 2015, only three members of the 24-person ExCo were still untainted by allegations they’d accepted kickbacks, with two having been barred from the 2010 vote because of their shady dealings. Blatter himself is banned through 2028 for a variety of ethics violations.

Blatter could have found alternatives to the Qatari “gifts.” He could have reminded the members from outside Europe how much he’d done for them and let them know his goodwill had limits. He could have given the entire ExCo a spreadsheet listing how much money FIFA had made under his stewardship.

Instead, Blatter chose to wait until now, when it’s too late to do anything, to say FIFA made the wrong choice.

That’s not courage, that’s protecting his own interests. Something Blatter and his colleagues showed 12 years ago is their only concern.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sepp Blatter criticizing Qatar World Cup comes 12 years too late



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