BERLIN Top European politicians pressured world soccer's governing body (FIFA) to award the 2022 soccer World Cup to Qatar, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Wednesday.
The tiny and energy-rich Gulf state was awarded the World Cup three years ago in a surprise decision which Blatter said was partly because of European politicians urging FIFA members to vote for it.
"Clearly yes," Blatter told Germany's Die Zeit newspaper when asked whether there was political pressure before the vote.
"There was direct political influence. European heads of governments advised voting FIFA members to vote for Qatar because of the wide financial interests linked with that country," Blatter said.
European soccer boss Michel Platini, a possible successor to Blatter, has said in the past he had dinner with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the head of Qatar's government prior to the vote but denied being told by the French politician to vote for the Middle Eastern bid.
The 2022 World Cup is mired in controversy with Blatter recently admitting it was a mistake to plan for a summer tournament in the desert state.
Staging the tournament in the Middle East has sparked widespread consternation because, if it is held over its traditional dates in the middle of the year, players will have to contend with 50 degrees Celsius heat.
Calls to move the World Cup to the northern hemisphere winter have also proved unpopular as it would disrupt domestic league competitions in countries such as Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France.
European soccer clubs said they wanted to be involved in discussions over any possible switch of dates.
The Australian Football federation (FFA), which had also bid for the same tournament, is already demanding compensation.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Justin Palmer)