The award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia was decided before voting began, the suspended president of the world footballing body Fifa, Sepp Blatter, has said, drawing an angry response from other countries who spent millions on their bids to host the event.
The 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively in December 2010, by Fifa's executive committee. But Blatter claimed in an interview with Russia's TASS news agency published on October 28 that an agreement was in place to award the tournaments to Russia and the US before voting had begun.
"In 2010 we had a discussion of the World Cup and then we went to a double decision," said Blatter, who served as Fifa president since 1998, but is currently suspended during an investigation into corruption. "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."
However, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy then threw a spanner in the works in a meeting with then crown prince of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, at which the Gulf state's bid as host gained prominence. Qatar displaced the US also after the prince held talks with Blatter's estranged colleague and also recently suspended current president of Uefa, Michel Platini.
Fifa's ethics committee earlier in October banned Platini for 90 days while it investigates the circumstances surrounding a payment of CHF2mn ($2mn) he received from Fifa in 2011.
"There was an election by secret ballot," Swiss-born Blatter said. "Four votes from Europe went away from the USA and so the result was 14 to eight. If you put the four votes, it would have been 12 to 10."
Several countries, including England, spent large sums on their bids to host the next world cups. Blatter's comments drew an angry response from English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, who said the FA would now investigate the possibility of recovering GBP21mn ($32mn) it had spent on the failed bid.
"We will look in detail at what Mr Blatter says. I suspect the response [from him] will be 'I was misquoted', but if he says that then I think there is something to investigate," Dyke said on October 28 after the TASS interview was published.
"There's nothing Mr Blatter says that surprises me much. If he is saying 'we wanted Russia' and it looks like he wanted that fixed before the vote, it's suggesting that it was all fixed anyway," Dyke added in remarks reported by the Guardian newspaper.
However, Blatter dismissed earlier English objections to the Russian win, saying the country never stood a chance of bagging the 2018 championship: "Bad losers. In Great Britain they have made this beautiful game, they have introduced fair play. But there was only one vote going for England. They were eliminated in the first round. Nobody wanted to have England."
Blatter moved to step down as Fifa president after Swiss prosecutors in May launched an investigation into suspected criminal mismanagement and money laundering in the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Data and documents were seized from Fifa's Zurich headquarters and 10 officials who took part in voting were detained for questioning.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to publicly defend the longstanding Fifa head, and rejects allegations that Russia was improperly awarded the 2018 World Cup.