Seven candidates have formally entered the race to lead the scandal-ridden world football body.
Sepp Blatter has claimed there was a backroom deal to give the 2022 World Cup to the United States before voting took place, but that the agreement was broken in favour of Qatar after high-level interference.
A meeting between then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, European football chief Michel Platini and then crown prince of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had crossed the preconceived plan, outgoing FIFA chief Blatter told Russian media on Wednesday.
“In 2010, we [FIFA’s 22-strong executive committee] had taken a double decision, we were agreed to go to Russia [in 2018], then in 2022 we’d return to the United States,” said Blatter, who is currently suspended while being investigated for alleged corruption.
Everything changed, Blatter added, “after talks between Sarkozy and Qatar’s prince who is now running the emirate” – a meeting followed by lunch between the two men and Platini.
“Four votes of Europe were taken from the US, so the result was 14 to eight. With those four votes it would have been 12 against 10 [to the advantage of the USA].”
It is not clear which committee members’ votes Blatter referred to.
If the US had won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, “all we’d be talking about now would be the marvellous 2018 World Cup in Russia and not about any problem at FIFA,” Blatter said.
‘I want to see his face’
Blatter’s comments prompted the head of the English Football Association (FA) Greg Dyke to say he would look into recouping around $32m spent on England’s failed 2018 bid.
Dyke said investigating the claims was a “good idea” as it would be “very nice to get taxpayers’ money back”.
The head of the FA predicted that Qatar would be stripped from hosting the 2022 tournament when Swiss investigators would complete their probe into the bidding process for the event.
Hitting back in an interview with Al Jazeera, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah responded: “I want to see his face when we host the 2022.
“We deserve to have a 2022 World Cup in Qatar, an Arabic state…an Islamic country. The Arabic region needs such a tournament for the youth of the Arab region and I think we deserve to have one,” the foreign minister told the host of Al Jazeera’s UpFront, Mehdi Hasan.
Attiyah also said that workers’ rights “were improving” in Qatar, responding to sustained criticism of the nation’s treatment of labourers who are building the infrastructure and stadiums in the Gulf nation (The full interview will be aired at 19:30 GMT on Friday).
Blatter accused Platini of being the original cause of the crisis at the top of football.
“Platini wanted to be FIFA president, but he didn’t have the courage to put himself forward,” he said, referring to the May 29 election in which Blatter saw off Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein for his fifth term in office.
“And now look where we are. And the victim of all this at the end of the day is Platini himself,” said the 79-year-old Swiss.
Platini is currently suspended from all football-related activities for 90 days while he is investigated over a clandestine $2m payment he received from Blatter on behalf of FIFA in 2011 for consultancy work carried out years before.
Platini had been seen as a strong favourite to take over when Blatter announced in June he was standing down.
FIFA’s Electoral Committee confirmed on Wednesday it had seven candidates running to be the new president in a February 26 election, including the Frenchman.
FIFA said the applications from the six others would be processed, but Platini’s case would only be considered once his ban is lifted.
But the Frenchman was defiant, telling Swiss daily Le Matin: “In all modesty, I am the best-placed to lead world football.”