FIFA leaders struck a secret agreement to award the 2022 World Cup to the United States before the organization even voted, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European soccer leaders intervened to blow up the deal, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in an interview published Wednesday.
The disclosure added more fuel to the corruption scandal that has shaken world soccer to its foundations. English soccer officials, whose federation spent more than $32 million in a failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, told the BBC they were consulting lawyers about possible legal action.
Blatter — who is among several senior leaders the Fédération Internationale de Football Association has suspended in reaction to the worldwide bribery and racketeering scandal that erupted in May — made the comments in a long interview published by the Russian news agency Tass.
The rights to host the 2022 World Cup went to the tiny emirate of Qatar in the December 2010 vote, a decision that mystified observers at the time and is at the center of many of the corruption allegations — including a 47-count U.S. indictment against 14 top FIFA and soccer marketing officials.
"In 2010 we had a discussion of the World Cup and then we went to a double decision," Blatter, who has announced his intention to resign early next year, told Tass. Blatter didn't identify the participants in the discussion, and Tass didn't ask.
"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," he said.
But then Sarkozy, France's president at the time, "came in a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar, who is now the ruler of Qatar, and at a lunch afterwards with Mr. Platini [Michel Platini, head of UEFA, the European soccer confederation] he said it would be good to go to Qatar," Blatter said.
Blatter further disclosed that there was a "secret ballot" before the official vote, during which "four votes from Europe went away from the USA and so the result was fourteen to eight" for Qatar, instead of 12 to 10 for the United States.
Blatter said that if the United States had been awarded the 2022 tournament as he and his confederates intended, "we would only speak about the wonderful World Cup 2018 in Russia and we would not speak about any problems at FIFA."
Platini has also been suspended, along with Blatter and FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke.
Blatter has been accused of corruption, bribery and ruling FIFA with an iron fist ever since he was elected president more than 17 years ago. He isn't named in the 165-page U.S. indictment, but U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last month that more indictments are expected.
In another development in the U.S. investigation, the Swiss Federal Justice Office said José Maria Marin, the former president of the Brazilian football confederation and one of seven top FIFA officials named in the U.S. indictment, had agreed to be extradited to the United States.
Marin is accused of having taken millions of dollars in bribes from sports marketing companies in connection with the sale of marketing rights for the South American soccer championships in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2023 and for the Brazilian Cup for contracts from 2013 to 2022.
Marin was chairman of the committee that organized last year's World Cup in his native Brazil. The indictment doesn't allege any wrongdoing in that context.