European football chief Michel Platini on Tuesday hit out at claims that FIFA’s awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was tainted by corruption and collusion involving top figures in the game.
France Football magazine alleged in a 16-page investigation that the designation of football’s most prestigious tournament to the tiny Gulf state had “the whiff of scandal” about it and suggested it should be re-awarded.
Platini himself was said to have attended a “secret meeting” at the French presidential palace in Paris with then-premier Nicolas Sarkozy, Qatari prince Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani and a representative of the then owners of Paris Saint-Germain.
At the November 23, 2010 meeting — some 10 days before a vote on the 2022 hosts — it was alleged that Platini was urged to back Qatar as part of a deal for a proposed Qatari buy-out of PSG and the creation of a new television sports channel.
PSG were eventually bought by Qatar Sports Investment in June 2011. BeIn Sport, a subsidiary of Doha-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, launched last year and took the television rights to show live French football from French broadcaster Canal+.
Platini said in a statement to AFP that “to believe that my choice went to Qatar 2022 in exchange for deals between the French state and Qatar is just pure speculation”, denouncing it as a fabrication.
“I don’t rule out taking anyone to court who questions my integrity in this vote,” he added.
To back up its claims, France Football, which dubbed the affair “Qatargate”, quoted what it said was an internal email in which FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke allegedly said that the tiny Gulf state had “bought the 2022 World Cup”.
Valcke subsquently claimed a misunderstanding and insisted that the tone of the email was “light-hearted”.
Former FIFA media chief Guido Tognoni, who was kicked out of the organisation in 2003, was also quoted as saying he believed there were “strong suspicions” that members were compromised over the 33.75-million-euro ($25 million) Qatari bid.
Key figures in making Qatar’s case included the now-banned former Asian football chief Mohammed Bin Hammam, FIFA vice-president Julio Grondona of Argentina and Ricardo Teixeira, who quit Brazil’s football federation and FIFA over graft claims.
Platini added: “As I’ve always stated, president Sarkozy would never have asked me to vote for Qatar 2022 because he knows that I’m my own man.
“I made my choice with complete independence following a simple logic… opening up countries who have never organised major sporting events.
“With the same concern for transparency, it was me who revealed to the media that a few weeks before the vote I was invited to dinner by Nicolas Sarkozy.”
FIFA said it had no comment to make but a spokesman pointed out its ethical commission, headed by ex-US prosecutor Michael Garcia, was to conduct a “wide-ranging inquiry” into the awarding of the 2018 edition to Russia and 2022 to Qatar.
Competition organisers told the publication that it won the bid “by respecting from beginning to end the highest ethical and moral standards, such as they were defined in the rules and regulations”.