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Sepp Blatter says awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a mistake

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Granting the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was “a bad choice”, Sepp Blatter, who was president of the governing body of world football at the time of the 2010 decision, said on Tuesday, claiming a deal between French and Qatar influenced the votes.

“It’s too small a country,” Blatter, FIFA’s leader for 17 years before stepping down in 2015, told Swiss newspaper Tamedia in his first comments since he was acquitted of corruption charges by a Swiss court in July. Prosecutors appealed the decision. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

The smallest host in size since the 1954 tournament held in Switzerland, Qatar will host 32 teams who will play 64 games across eight stadiums in and around Doha, site of large and controversial construction projects for the tournament, which starts on 20 November. More than a million visitors are expected, but many will travel from neighboring countries because of limited places to stay in Qatar.

“It was a bad choice, and I was responsible for that as president at the time,” Blatter said.

From October: Only one month to go until the World Cup. Will Qatar be ready?

An offer from the United States, which Blatter said he voted for, fell short in the final round of voting among five candidates. Qatar is believed to have defeated the United States during a meeting organized in Paris by Nicolas Sarkozy, then President of France, the week before the December 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive committee.

Present at the meeting were Michel Platini (the former French football great who was then president of UEFA, the European football body) and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, then Crown Prince of Qatar and now Emir.

Blatter said on Tuesday, as he has in the past, that Sarkozy pressured Platini, repeating his version of a phone call from Platini saying the voting plan had changed.

“Thanks to Platini’s four votes and his [UEFA] team, the World Cup went to Qatar and not to the United States. It’s the truth,” Blatter said of the 14-8 vote.

“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what a good thing would be,” Platini told the Associated Press seven years ago, acknowledging that he “perhaps told” US officials that he would vote for the 2022 candidacy. Along with Blatter, Platini was also acquitted of corruption charges over the summer.

Since winning the bid, Qatar has come under fire for human rights issues and working conditions at construction sites related to the tournament, something Blatter has not addressed directly other than saying that “social considerations and human rights are taken into account.” as FIFA’s criteria for hosting countries was changed in 2012.

Another issue as the tournament approaches is the concern for LGBT tourists in Qatar, where authorities have allegedly arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT people. That issue resurfaced this week when Khalid Salman, a former Qatari international and World Cup ambassador, called homosexuality “mind damage” in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF. He added that being gay is “haram” – forbidden in Arabic – and that he has a problem with children seeing gay people.

“During the World Cup, many things will come to the country here. Let’s talk about gays,” Salman said in English. “The most important thing is that everyone will accept that they come here, but they will have to accept our rules.”

The interview was interrupted by a media official from the World Cup organizing committee, ZDF reported.

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