Football: You cannot buy a World Cup, insists Blatter

Sepp Blatter (left) claims that Michel Platini was pressured by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy to vote for Qatar, which the Frenchman has always denied.
Sepp Blatter (right) claims that Michel Platini was pressured by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy to vote for Qatar, which the Frenchman has always denied.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Former Fifa chief insists Qatar won World Cup 2022 bid due to French pressure and not a fix

LONDON • All the Fifa president's men are now banned, arrested or indicted. But Sepp Blatter, the pantomime villain of world football and the subject of an eight-year ban plus twin criminal investigations over activities at the helm of the game's world governing body, says the future holds no fears for him.

"I am sure that there is justice in this world, and that I have committed nothing which goes to criminal law," he says. "I have killed nobody, I have not robbed a bank, I have not taken any money from anywhere."

For someone with two swords of Damocles - separately wielded by the United States and Swiss prosecutors - hanging over him, Blatter appears a hugely revived figure from the frail, unshaven pensioner who made a rambling appearance at a news conference after his Fifa ethics committee ban had been announced.

The investigations focus on three areas of alleged corruption or mismanagement.

The US justice department says that a US$10 million (S$14 million) World Cup bribe was paid to Jack Warner, the disgraced Caribbean football official, by South Africa using a Fifa bank account.

A CLEAR CONSCIENCE

I have killed nobody, I have not robbed a bank, I have not taken any money from anywhere.

SEPP BLATTER, saying that he did not break any criminal law.

The Swiss prosecutors are looking at the underselling of World Cup TV rights to Warner, who made an £11 million (S$22.3 million) profit, and a payment of 2 million Swiss francs (S$2.84 million) made by Fifa to Michel Platini, the Uefa president, on the basis of a verbal agreement made 11 years previously.

Blatter says that he knew nothing of the US$10 million payment to Warner - part of the 2010 World Cup budget that Fifa diverted at South Africa's behest.

"I was not aware of this," he says.

"The money was going through Fifa but it was not Fifa money, it was money from Africa.

"There are so many operations in the finances and if they don't inform me directly I'm not going to look at everything. My management style has been and still is management by confidence and trust."

THE TIMES, LONDON

POWER OVER MONEY

It will go at the end where the higher political influences are.

BLATTER, on how World Cup votes are influenced by power and not by bribes.

On the TV rights to Warner, Blatter adds: "This is something which is now a matter for the Swiss prosecutor but I have not done anything wrong there, no."

The third allegation against Blatter is over the "disloyal payment" to Platini, which led to both men being banned for eight years by Fifa's ethics committee.

Blatter says that he has not spoken to Platini since that day, and although he admits to administrative "errors", is insistent that it was above board.

"At the time when we had this agreement made, Fifa was not well organised like it is now," he says.

"If you have an oral agreement then it is valid until the end. The only thing I can be rendered to be responsible for is to not have included a remark at the time when we made the first written contract with him."

Blatter's 17 years in office were dogged by scandal from the start, but perhaps Fifa's troubles really began on Dec 2, 2010, when he opened the envelope with the word "Qatar" inside.

"Look at my face when I opened the envelope," says Blatter - who had manoeuvred for the United States to be the 2022 World Cup host - before chuckling grimly.

And once more, Platini's involvement was key - the Frenchman has always denied being pressured to vote for Qatar by Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French president, but Blatter says that Platini telephoned him to explain what had happened after a dinner at the Elysee Palace in late 2010.

He adds: "You cannot buy a World Cup, it will go at the end where the higher political influences are.

"For World Cup 2022, Platini at least had the courtesy to phone me and say, 'now we have had a meeting with the head of state and if the head of state is asking me to support France (by backing Qatar) for different reasons then I will'.

"I knew then there would be a problem, we tried but it was too late. It was one week or 10 days before the vote. I tried to see what votes were left for the US but four votes were lost."

Blatter says that he had wanted to give the World Cup to the two superpowers - Russia, who won the 2018 vote, and the US, who lost out to Qatar for 2022.

"It was something which would bring our planet peace and understanding if both superpowers will have the World Cup. They will not fight, because they would both be happy. Now the one (US) is not happy and its partner (England) is also not happy about the 2018 (World Cup)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline 'YOU CANNOT BUY A WORLD CUP: BLATTER'. Print Edition | Subscribe