French and German government officials went through the motions yesterday of rejecting Sepp Blatter's suggestion that it had been the interest of big business in their two countries that had been a key factor in Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup.
Neither, though, bothered to question the Fifa president’s assertion that choosing the middle-eastern emirate had been “a mistake”.
The Qataris and Uefa president Michel Platini seem to be about the only ones who still reckon that was a good call although the Frenchman insists he has always felt the only way it would be practicable to stage the competition there was to shift it to winter; a proposal that, sadly, wasn't actually provided for anywhere in what was supposed to be a serious bidding process.
In fact, it bordered on the laughable although even that doesn’t seem to quite excuse Blatter making so light of it when he confirmed that “yes, it was a mistake [but] you know, one makes lots of mistakes in life. The technical report from Qatar clearly indicated it was too hot in summer.”
Qatar spend of €145bn
He continued: "But nevertheless, the executive committee, with a fairly large majority, decided that we would play in Qatar".
Asked whether he was suggesting the Qataris had bought the right to stage the event he replied: “No, I have never said it was bought, but that it was due to political considerations. We know full well that big French and German companies work in Qatar but they don’t just work for the World Cup. The World Cup is only a small part of what is going on in Qatar.”
That much is true but the tournament is at the heart of a great deal of what is going on there at the moment with the government committing to spend some €145 billion between now and 2022 on road and rail infrastructure, huge residential and commercial property developments and, of course, (air conditioned) football stadiums and related facilities. Most of the contracts relating to the latter have gone to the Germans so far as did the €25 billion rail construction programme.
The numbers bear no relation to what might have been spent had Qatar’s rivals – the US, Australia, South Korea or Japan – won the right to stage the event and the campaign felt a little like that too. All of the bid teams spent a lot of money in the run up to December 2010 when the somewhat startling decision was also taken to stage the 2018 event in Russia but everywhere the small band of voters went it, not least Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup, it was entirely obvious who had the greatest war chest.
The vote was taken by an committee already short-handed due to suspensions for corruption and several of the 22 members who participated in the decision subsequently departed under a cloud.
Later, there would be claims, subsequently withdrawn, that Mohamed bin Hammam, the ExCo member so closely associated with the bid, had brought huge amounts of cash to committee meetings and dispensed it to fellow members.
He denied it but there were other allegations and he was eventually forced out with others. An investigation of the entire process is continuing with the results due just before the World Cup next month but it is difficult to imagine what would have to happen before Fifa took the entirely obvious step of rerunning the selection procedure. Instead, they are merely likely to confirm the shift to winter later this year.
In the midst of all this Blatter seems to strengthen his position and his remarks may well have been a swipe at his rival and presidential contender Michel Platini, the one man seen as a potentially serious rival in the 2015 election. Platini backed Qatar, admitted dining with then then French president Nicolas Sarkozy and some Qatari royals prior to the vote.