Belfast Telegraph

Blatter under pressure as Qatar World Cup choice backfires

By Sam Wallace

Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, was facing meltdown in his organisation last night after Qatar, the tiny emirate controversially chosen by football's world governing body to host the 2022 World Cup finals, rejected Fifa's proposals to switch the tournament to the winter.

In a move designed to cause the maximum embarrassment to Blatter, Mohammed Bin Hammam, the Qatari representative in Fifa's all-powerful executive committee (ExCo), also dismissed recent suggestions from his fellow ExCo member Michel Platini that the 2022 tournament should be spread around Gulf states.

Blatter had hoped to see off some of the public backlash to the decision last month to award Qatar the 2022 finals by switching the tournament to the cooler month of January – but in light of Bin Hammam's comments it would appear that Fifa has no option but to stage the tournament in temperatures of 50C-plus.

Having explored ways of extricating themselves from the embarrassment of staging a World Cup in desert heat, Blatter and the Uefa president Platini now look damaged and isolated on the world stage. In the febrile political atmosphere of Fifa, Blatter, its 74-year-old president who will stand for re-election for a fifth term in April, in particular looks vulnerable.

In a further attack on Blatter's fitness to lead Fifa, Bin Hammam, who will challenge for the Fifa presidency in April, admitted that the organisation was out-dated and lacking in transparency. This is exactly the kind of criticism that has been levelled at it from outside since the vote for the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals on 2 December.

Bin Hammam told Sky News: "I think we [Fifa] need to be more open to the people, more transparent. A lot of things could be done. Maybe the actual administration can do that, they have to commit themselves to doing that. The structure is not helpful or useful for our world."

Also very telling was Blatter's ignorance of Bin Hammam's position – which was made clear by the views expressed by the Fifa president in an interview with CNN's World Sport yesterday, his first major one in English since the 2022 decision. It was evident from Blatter's claim that the likelihood of staging the Qatar tournament in the winter "is definitely over 50 per cent" that he had no notion of Bin Hammam's stance.

The hard-line position of Bin Hammam means that the only way in which Fifa can now avoid the tournament being played in the sweltering temperatures of a Qatari summer would be to make a monumental U-turn and take the finals away. As Blatter himself admitted, the prerogative to change the dates of the tournament rests with the host nation – it cannot be imposed by the ExCo.

The suggestion from Uefa president Platini that the 2022 World Cup be played all around the Gulf states – further evidence that Fifa is simply making up the rules as it goes along – was rejected by Bin Hammam. The president of the Asian football confederation thinks that the ad hoc nature of Fifa's major alterations to the staging of a World Cup were not acceptable.

Bin Hammam said: "I believe Qatar can stand alone and organise the competition by itself and I'm really not very impressed by these opinions to distribute the game over the Gulf or change the time from July to January."

He added later: "We submitted a bid suggesting we are going to be ready in June, July. And we said we are going to face all the challenges and we are going to meet all the requirements. Our focus is June, July. It is never our interest to change one week beyond June, July.

"I know, from the bottom of my heart, there are a lot of stakeholders who should be consulted [and] their views brought to the table. It's not up to one, two or three members of Fifa to talk about changing the time without getting the real stakeholders' opinions."

He added: "We will not [change our minds]. We are not interested. We are very happy and we are promising the world that we are going to organise an amazing World Cup in June and July. And even here in Qatar that is going to be a perfect welcome."

Breaking the usual code of silence among the ExCo members, who currently number 22, Bin Hammam discussed the perception of corruption within the organisation, admitting that "people are seeing us [sic] that way". He hinted at an independent regulator – "there must be [something] that people can really measure us on" so that "people see us from [the] inside".

Meanwhile, in the interview Blatter gave to Pedro Pinto of CNN, the Fifa president was blissfully unaware of Bin Hammam's frame of mind. Blatter, so rarely outmanoeuvred, claimed that "the final decision has not yet been taken" on whether 2022 would be switched to the winter. He said: "It would be unfair to the players to play in summer when there is a possibility to play in winter."

It also emerged yesterday that the two ExCo members suspended over corruption charges relating to The Sunday Times investigation – Reynald Temarii (Tahiti) and Amos Adamu (Nigeria) – are appealing against their sentences.

Belfast Telegraph


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