In a wide-ranging interview, suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter says the troubles for soccer's world governing body started with his rival Michel Platini — who Blatter says also helped to undermine a push to deliver the 2022 World Cup to the U.S., instead of to Qatar.
"The FIFA World Cup or the FIFA president is a ball in the big political power game," Blatter tells Russia's TASS news agency.
In addition to blaming Platini, who is one of seven candidates vying to become FIFA's next president, Blatter says political gamesmanship — between the European Union and FIFA, and between the U.S. and Russia — have fueled controversies that have enveloped both Blatter and the sports federation.
We'll give Blatter's side of the events that led FIFA's ethics committee to suspend both him and Platini further down. For now, here's how Blatter describes the events of 2010, when FIFA selected Russia and Qatar, respectively, to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments:
"For the World Cups it was agreed that we go to Russia because it's never been in Russia, eastern Europe, and for 2022 we go back to America. And so we will have the World Cup in the two biggest political powers. And everything was good until the moment when [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy came in a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar, who is now the ruler of Qatar [Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani]. And at a lunch afterwards with Mr. Platini he said it would be good to go to Qatar. And this has changed all pattern. There was an election by secret ballot. Four votes from Europe went away from the USA and so the result was 14 to 8. If you put the four votes, it would have been 12 to 10. If the USA was given the World Cup, we would only speak about the wonderful World Cup 2018 in Russia and we would not speak about any problems at FIFA."
Discussing his own relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Blatter says:
"Vladimir Vladimirovich is a good friend of Joseph Josephovich. You know what I like in Russia also is that in difficult situations I still have the full support of President Putin. This is good. And I support him in all discussions, in all situations."
In the interview, Blatter also painted varying portraits of the organization he has led for more than four terms as president:
"FIFA is not the Swiss bank. FIFA is not a commercial company," Blatter says at one point. But shortly afterward, he states, "Since I became president of FIFA, we have made FIFA a big commercial company," before adding, "this naturally provokes envy and jealousy."
As for his relationship with Platini, who is president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Blatter says that while they have been friends, the recent controversies and charges began with the European body's dissatisfaction with him — and that "at the beginning it was only a personal attack. It was Platini against me."
From there, Blatter says, things got more political, culminating in his own recent suspension and charges of corruption leveled against his top deputies. Despite those controversies, Blatter was elected to a fifth term as FIFA's leader in May — and then promptly announced that he would resign his post.
Platini's name is on the list of seven candidates for FIFA's presidency that was released by the organization Wednesday. FIFA says Platini's name was listed provisionally and that he would formally become a candidate if his ban is revoked before the election in February.
Blatter calls the suspensions he and Platini are now under "total nonsense." Telling his version of the events that led to allegations of bribery and corruption, Blatter says:
"When he was chairman of the organizing committee for the France World Cup, he told me at the end of the Cup, 'I would like to work for you.' And I said this is great because we all already worked with him. It was in 1998. And then he said that I am very expensive. I said okay. So he said, 'I am worth one million a year.' I said I cannot pay this, it's impossible. And he said, 'Okay, then pay me later.' So we have made some contract, where he got some money, but not one million. He was working until he was elected in 2002 to FIFA Executive Committee and UEFA Executive Committee. He stopped his working contract because he was then an official of FIFA. He never touched this item until 2010. In 2010 he approached the financial director of FIFA by saying, 'Hey, listen, FIFA owes us money.' I was informed about that and I said, okay let him make an invoice of this what we owe him. And then he said we owe him two million Swiss francs. And then I analyzed that and I said okay. Yes, it's a contract we have made. And it's a principle I have in my life that if you owe money to somebody, then you pay it. Then we paid it. That's all. And this money was not paid for any other reasons."
In addition to Platini, the other candidates for FIFA's presidency include Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Musa Hassan Bility, Jérôme Champagne, Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Tokyo Sexwale.