- By David FrancisDavid Francis is a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covers international finance. An award-winning journalist, David has reported from all over Europe, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, and Afghanistan on terrorism, national security, the geopolitics of energy, global economics, and the European financial crisis. His work has been published in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times Deutschland, Slate, and SportsIllustrated.com.
Swiss and U.S. investigators are closing in on FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is currently serving a 90-day suspension as widening corruption probes continue. Now, he’s making a bold claim: If it weren’t for suspicious reversals by European voters, the United States, not Qatar, would be hosting the 2022 World Cup.
Speaking to Russian media outlet TASS, Blatter said it appeared as if, in advance of the 2010 award, the United States would be getting the tournament. However, when the actual secret vote took place, four European nations changed their minds, which gave the Cup to Qatar; he blamed the entire FIFA scandal on the alleged European reversal.
“If the USA was given the World Cup, we would only speak about the wonderful World Cup 2018 in Russia and we would not speak about any problems at FIFA,” Blatter said in the interview published Wednesday.
Blatter also suggested that French national Michel Platini, head of the European football federation UEFA, and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president from 2007 to 2012, were the men who convinced unnamed European nations to change their vote. Platini was also suspended by FIFA because Swiss investigators believe Blatter improperly used FIFA funds to funnel 2 million Swiss Francs, or about $2 million, to the Frenchman, his closest rival for FIFA’s presidency, in February 2011. Platini subsequently stood down.
“And everything was good until the moment when Sarkozy came in a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar, who is now the ruler of Qatar [Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani]. And at a lunch afterwards with Mr. Platini he said it would be good to go to Qatar. And this has changed all pattern,” Blatter said.
“Four votes from Europe went away from the USA,” he added.
World Cups can provide a financial windfall in nations where there is an existing football infrastructure, like the United States. When Germany hosted the 2006 tournament, it generated $399 million in revenue for the German tourism industry and added 50,000 jobs while ticket sales sent about $44 million to government coffers.
Developing countries are a different story. Both South Africa and Brazil spent billions preparing for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, respectively, but many of the facilities they built for the World Cup now sit empty and unused. In Brazil, an estimated $11.3 billion was spent to prepare for the world’s premier soccer tournament, sparking protest in advance of it.
Allegations about this kind of underhanded dealing shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been tracking the FIFA scandal; fourteen of the organization’s top soccer and marketing officials have already been charged by the U.S. Justice Department, and U.S. authorities suggest more are coming. And there have long been rumors of graft connected to Qatar, a nation facing accusations of human rights violations and slave labor as facilities for the tournament are built.
But it’s hard not to be cynical when it comes to the FIFA president. As law enforcement’s noose tightens around him — authorities recently questioned him and searched his office in Zurich — he could be trying to offer up Platini as a sacrificial lamb.
But it’s doubtful U.S. Attorney-General Loretta Lynch will take her eyes off of what appears to be her ultimate prize: Blatter.
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