Citing the size of the country, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter criticized the decision to award the upcoming World Cup to Qatar as a "mistake."
Blatter made his comments in a Tuesday interview with Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.
"Qatar is a mistake," Blatter said. … "It’s a country that’s too small. Football and the World Cup are too big for that."
Qatar's population stands at roughly 2.9 million, including an influx of around 370,000 new residents who moved to the Gulf nation in past year in the lead-up to the World Cup. Qatar did not have the infrastructure in place to run the event and recruited migrant workers from foreign countries to build the necessary stadiums, hotels and roadways.
The employment of migrant workers is at the center of human rights concerns around the World Cup. Qatar has faced criticism for the working and living conditions provided to migrant workers, which Amnesty International has likened to forced labor. The conditions have been blamed for workers' injuries and deaths, with the death toll a subject of dispute.
Blatter's criticism didn't directly address the human rights concerns. He did reiterate that he believes that the United States should have been awarded World Cup, four years after Russia hosted in 2018.
“At the time, we actually agreed in the (FIFA) Executive Committee that Russia should get the 2018 World Cup and the USA that of 2022," Blatter said.
“It would have been a gesture of peace if the two long-standing political opponents had hosted the World Cup one after the other.”
Qatar and the United States were among five finalists to host the 2022 World Cup when FIFA awarded it to Qatar by a 14-8 vote in 2010. Blatter was FIFA president at the time and says that he voted for the United States. He reiterated past claims that then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy helped sway the vote at a 2010 meeting in Paris attended by then-UEFA president Michel Platini and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the current emir of Qatar who was crown prince at the time.
"Thanks to the four votes of Platini and his team, the World Cup went to Qatar rather than the United States," Blatter said.
He added that the decision was his responsibility as FIFA president.
“It was a bad choice," Blatter said. "And I was responsible for that as president at the time."
Blatter, 86, made the comments in his first interview since he and Platini were acquitted in July of charges of defrauding FIFA in a Swiss criminal court. Prosecutors have filed an appeal of the acquittal. FIFA banned Blatter amid the charges and has since issued a new suspension through 2028 for multiple alleged breaches of its ethics codes.
World Cup play in Qatar starts on Nov. 20. The United States, Canada and Mexico will jointly host the next World Cup in 2026 across 16 cities.
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