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May 15, 2013

Sepp Blatter blasts Qatar heat

LONDON -- Playing the 2022 World Cup in the searing summer heat of Qatar is "not rational and reasonable," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in a newspaper interview.

Despite health concerns included in an official report before the vote, the FIFA executive committee opted for the tiny emirate's bid in 2010. Blatter has repeatedly refused to say if he backed Qatar.

"Whether it's the right choice, that's up to the executive committee," Blatter said in an interview published Wednesday in French newspaper L'Equipe. "The problem is knowing whether it can be played in June-July in Qatar."

Air-conditioned stadiums to beat the 50-degree C (122-degree F) heat were a defining theme of Qatar's bid, but the cooling technology only resolves the problem in venues for players, fans and officials.

"The World Cup is more than just stadiums, it's an array of social and cultural activities around the competition," Blatter said. "What do we do? It's not rational and reasonable to play in June-July.

"Our technical report, which was available to all the members of the executive committee before the 2010 vote, exposed these difficulties."

Without directly criticizing the decision, Blatter said voters were influenced by the pressure to take the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.

"There were interventions at different levels so that it would go to an Arab country," Blatter said. "Geopolitics did its work."

FIFA vice president Michel Platini voted for Qatar but has previously said that it was not due to pressure from then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"Before the awarding of a World Cup or Olympic Games, there is a meeting with the politicians," Blatter said. "We had it here in Zurich. They influence the voters. England didn't get the 2018 World Cup and, ever since, there has been a Cold War with FIFA."

FIFA's lead ethics prosecutor, Michael Garcia, has been examining allegations about how Russia and Qatar won hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, after a series of corruption allegations surrounding the bidding process.

But Blatter said "nobody proved that there were payoffs so that Qatar was chosen."

"The ethics commission can open an investigation," he said. "That would be good to prove that this was done correctly."

Blatter's own future remains uncertain, with two years until the FIFA presidential elections.

The 77-year-old Swiss recently backed away from a 2011 promise that this would be his fourth and final term running FIFA.

Now, though, Blatter appears to be endorsing Platini, the former France great who is president of UEFA.

"He's my natural candidate because we have done it all together," Blatter said. "As soon as I took over the presidency (in 1998), he was my technical adviser. Then we built a sporting policy at FIFA. Then he became president of UEFA (in 2007). It's the right track."

The pair, though, have clashed on the use of goal-line technology, with Platini against referees being given high-tech aids.

And Blatter adds a caveat with his endorsement of Platini, stressing that his support would only be "if he continues in the direction of universal football."

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