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Former FIFA head Sepp Blatter calls giving World Cup to Qatar a mistake

Sepp Blatter was FIFA president when Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010. (Walter Bieri/Keystone/AP)

Awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was “a bad choice,” Sepp Blatter, who was president of soccer’s world governing body at the time of the 2010 decision, said Tuesday, claiming that an agreement between French and Qatari officials swayed votes.

“It’s a country that’s too small,” Blatter, the leader of FIFA for 17 years before he stepped down in 2015, told Swiss newspaper group Tamedia in his first comments since being acquitted of corruption charges by a Swiss court in July. Prosecutors have appealed the decision. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

The smallest host by size since the 1954 tournament took place in Switzerland, Qatar will host 32 teams that will play 64 games in eight stadiums in and around Doha, the site of massive and controversial construction projects for the tournament, which begins Nov. 20. More than a million visitors are expected, but many will commute from neighboring countries because of limited places to stay in Qatar.

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

From October: The World Cup is only a month away. Will Qatar be ready?

A bid by the United States, which Blatter has said he voted for, fell short in the final round of voting among five candidates. It is believed Qatar beat out the United States during a meeting hosted in Paris by Nicolas Sarkozy, then president of France, the week before the December 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive committee.

Present at the meeting were Michel Platini (the former French soccer great who was then president of UEFA, the European soccer body) and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, then the crown prince of Qatar and now the emir.

Blatter claimed Tuesday, as he has in the past, that Sarkozy pressured Platini, repeating his version of a telephone call from Platini saying that the voting plan had changed.

“Thanks to the four votes of Platini and his [UEFA] team, the World Cup went to Qatar rather than the United States. It’s the truth,” Blatter said of the 14-8 vote.

“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be good,” Platini told the Associated Press seven years ago, acknowledging he “might have told” American officials that he would be voting for their 2022 bid. Along with Blatter, Platini also was acquitted of corruption charges over the summer.

Since winning the bid, Qatar has come under criticism for human rights issues and working conditions at tournament-related construction sites, something Blatter did not directly address other than to say “social considerations and human rights are taken into account” since FIFA’s criteria for host countries was amended in 2012.

Another issue as the tournament approaches is concern for tourists in Qatar, where officials have reportedly arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT people. That issue returned to the fore this week when Khalid Salman, a former Qatari national team player who is an ambassador for the World Cup, called homosexuality a “damage in the mind” in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF. He added that being gay is “haram” — forbidden in Arabic — and that he has a problem with children seeing gay people.

“During the World Cup, many things will come here to the country. Let’s talk about gays,” Salman said in English. “The most important thing is, everybody will accept that they come here, but they will have to accept our rules.”

The interview was cut short by a media officer of the World Cup organizing committee, ZDF reported.