Blatter casts further doubt on integrity of World Cup votes
LONDON (AP) Sepp Blatter has cast further doubt on the integrity of World Cup votes, blaming Michel Platini for backing out of a secret FIFA pact to award the 2022 tournament to the United States and suggesting Qatar benefited from collusion.
Blatter's comments in an interview with the Financial Times come almost a year after a FIFA ethics investigation exonerated 2018 host Russia and 2022 winner Qatar of corruption in winning the contentious dual votes in 2010.
Blatter is provisionally suspended from the FIFA presidency while under investigation for financial wrongdoing. Blatter risks a separate ethics probe into his comments about the World Cup bidding process if he did not provide the same admissions to FIFA's investigatory team last year.
Platini, the UEFA leader, is also serving a provisional 90-day suspension over a 2011 payment from FIFA authorized by Blatter which looks set to end his chances of taking over the presidency.
While Blatter is reinforcing perceptions that the World Cup votes he presided over were tainted, the interview also threatens to further undermine the credibility of his former ally Platini.
Blatter suggests Platini was in on a ''gentleman's agreement'' to back the United States over Qatar in the 2022 vote, which also featured Australia, South Korea and Japan, and to give Russia its first World Cup in 2018 over bids from England, Spain-Portugal, Belgium-Netherlands.
''It has been agreed - let's go to the two superpowers in the vote for the World Cup: let's go to Russia and let's go to the United States,'' Blatter told the FT.
Blatter said it was ''diplomatically arranged'' to go to ''big markets'' to assist sponsors and media partners. But one week before the December 2010 vote, Blatter said Platini told him: ''I am no longer in your picture because I have been told by the head of state that we should consider the situation of France.''
Blatter's recollection is at odds with Platini's assertion that a meeting in Paris with then-President Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatar's crown prince, now Emir, Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani did not influence his vote for Qatar less than two weeks later.
Blatter, though, insists that the voting pact was ''changed by the governmental interference of Mr. Sarkozy ... and then (Platini) has brought some other voters with him.
''At the end we were in a situation where nobody understood why the FIFA World Cup 2022 was now going to one of the smallest countries in the world.''
Blatter believes that criminal investigations into FIFA would not have been launched by the American and Swiss authorities had the vote turned out differently five years ago.
''If you see my face when I opened (the envelope), I was not the happiest man to say it is Qatar, definitely not,'' Blatter said.
FIFA's ethics committee ruled before the 2010 vote that there was insufficient evidence to prove a Qatari-Iberian vote-trading deal but Blatter now suggests there was collusion.
''There was a kind of arrangement between Spain and some South American voters together with Qatar: you vote for me and we vote for you,'' Blatter said. ''It was not a signed arrangement, but there was some evidence that they had some collusion or whatever. But in election, you can never avoid that: that's impossible.''
Only 22 FIFA executive committee members voted for the World Cup hosts as two men had been suspended before the vote. Instead of Qatar winning 14-8, the Americans would have triumphed 12-10 had Platini not shifted support, according to Blatter.
In the 2018 decision, Russia secured 13 backers in the final round of voting ahead of Spain-Portugal (7) and Belgium-Netherlands (2).
''Russia didn't take part in any collusion with anyone,'' Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who has been on FIFA's executive committee since 2009, told the Interfax news agency.
Russian World Cup organizers said in a statement that they were ''neither aware of nor involved in discussions as mentioned'' by Blatter and only knew of the victory after the vote.
The 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process forms part of the Swiss federation investigation into financial corruption linked to FIFA.
Swiss bank Credit Suisse said Friday it was cooperating with the Swiss and American investigators after it ''received inquiries from these authorities regarding its banking relationships with certain individuals and entities associated with FIFA.''
The bank said prosecutors are investigating ''multiple financial institutions, including Credit Suisse'' and whether they processed ''suspicious or otherwise improper transactions, or failed to observe anti-money laundering laws and regulations.''
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Basel, Switzerland and James Ellingworth in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.