Concerns about the plight of low-paid migrant workers building the nation’s infrastructure and discriminatory laws that criminalise same-sex relationships have plagued the World Cup’s preparations this year.
When FIFA’s executive committee controversially decided to hold the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 and Russia in 2018, Blatter, then 86, was in charge of FIFA at the time.
Blatter asserts that he did not vote for Qatar and that his preference was for Russia and then the United States to host the two competitions as a “gesture of peace.”
“The choice of Qatar was a mistake,” Blatter said in an interview with Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, his first since being cleared of fraud charges in July following a £1.7m payment to the former UEFA president Michel Platini.
“At the time, we actually agreed in the executive committee that Russia should get the 2018 World Cup and the USA that of 2022. It would have been a gesture of peace if the two long-standing political opponents had hosted the World Cup one after the other.
“It’s too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”
The Qatar World Cup, which had to be moved to November and December due to heat, is now just two weeks away and Blatter accepts he is responsible for the tournament taking place there.
“I can only repeat: the award to Qatar was a mistake, and I was responsible for that as president at the time,” he said.
“Now that the World Cup is imminent, I’m glad that, with a few exceptions, no footballers are boycotting the World Cup.
“For me it is clear: Qatar is a mistake. The choice was bad. What I’m wondering: why is the new FIFA president [Gianni Infantino] living in Qatar? He can’t be the head of the local World Cup organisation. That’s not his job. There are two organising committees for this – a local one and one from FIFA.”
Blatter refrained from expressing regret over the World Cup being given to Russia after that nation invaded Ukraine.
Blatter denied claims that Russia used the competition as a “propaganda platform” and stated that he is no longer in contact with Vladimir Putin.
“Many others also use sport for political purposes. I’m not a judge and I don’t want to judge that,” he added.