Qatar bid thrown into spotlight amid Blatter resignation

As Blatter announces resignation he pledges to ‘focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms’

Peter Harrison

Published: Updated:

The future of the Qatari 2022 and Russia 2018 World Cup tournaments was thrown further into the spotlight on Tuesday as FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation amid a widening corruption scandal.

The news comes just five days after Blatter, 79, was re-elected for a fifth term on Friday, two days after a corruption crisis erupted and seven soccer officials were arrested in Zurich ahead of the FIFA congress.

In a statement sent after Blatter’s resignation announcement, former FIFA advisor Michael Hershman told Al Arabiya News: “FIFA can now begin to reset the clock - in essence starting to cleanse itself from the systematic failure of leadership to police the organization. However this will only happen with progressive and honest leadership which is the key going forward.

“I would anticipate continuing questions and investigations over the 2018 and 2022 bids. So? Nothing is entirely settled.”

The viability of Qatar keeping hold of the 2022 World Cup is at threat, but only because the entire democratic process of FIFA is set for reform - starting with Blatter’s resignation

Graham Ruthven

Blatter confirmed his resignation at a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich, in which he said he would remain in office until new elections were held - most probably between December and March.

His announcement comes seven days after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 men last Wednesday, including the seven arrested in dawn raids on a luxury Zurich hotel.

The Justice Department said Tuesday it would have no comment on Blatter’s announcement. The Swiss attorney general said Blatter was not under investigation in Switzerland, but authorities said last week they had opened a criminal probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding votes.

“Intense scrutiny”

Ever since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup tournament there has been widespread calls for a rethink over the decision.

But on Monday former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani accused those who claimed the tiny Gulf island nation bribed FIFA officials to gain the hosting right for the 2022 World Cup made statements that were “not fair.”

And he said the claims were based on Western Islamophobia and racism towards Arabs. He made the comments in an interview with Fox News.

Sheikh Hamad went to say he blamed the media for drumming up corruption claims during Qatar’s World Cup bid which he said was won in a “fair competition.”

He added: “I support, of course, Russia to have their turn in 2018. But if you see the talks, it’s all about Qatar.”

While this latest news is likely to throw some weight behind a call to reopen the vote for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, Al Arabiya News football pundit, Graham Ruthven said nothing was certain.

“With Blatter gone there’s no doubt that the process of awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup will come under intense scrutiny. But it’s worth noting that Blatter was not solely responsible for the result of the vote five years ago.

“Under his watch FIFA cultivated a culture of corruption but the Swiss was actually a detractor of the Qatar World Cup - calling the decision a ‘mistake.’ The viability of Qatar keeping hold of the 2022 World Cup is at threat, but only because the entire democratic process of FIFA is set for reform - starting with Blatter’s resignation.

"For instance, if Michel Platini is to be put up as a potential FIFA president it should be remembered that he actually voted to give Qatar the competition.”

And Ruthven warned there was “much more to be overcome if a re-vote was to be held.”

Speaking after Blatter’s re-election on Friday, Michael Hershman had previously told Al Arabiya News that it was “fairly clear that a number of federations from the Southern Hemisphere care more about keeping the spigots open in getting FIFA through Blatter than they do about transparency and accountability.”

And he said “I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that he managed to have the World Cup in South Africa,” added Hershman, who once served on the world governing body’s independent governance committee.

“Profound restructuring”

At Tuesday’s press conference Blatter, who had previously shrugged off his critics said: “This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football.” And he added: “FIFA needs a profound restructuring.”

Blatter’s decision to stand down came four days after he defeated sole challenger Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan 133-73 in the FIFA presidential election for what would have been another four-year term. He has been in office for 17 years.

Speaking on CNN shortly after the announcement on Tuesday night Prince Ali said Sepp Blatter’s resignation as FIFA’s president was “the right move.”

He said: “I think that it is the right move from Sepp Blatter and I think we have to look to the future.”

But the prince declined to comment on if he would run again for the FIFA presidency.

He said: “I am at the disposal of all the national associations who want a change, including all of those who were afraid to make a change.”

Michel Platini, the president of European body UEFA, had called for Blatter’s resignation last week before the vote. On Tuesday, he praised Blatter's decision to go.

“It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision,” said Platini, Blatter’s one-time protégé.

Platini opted out of taking on Blatter head-to-head in last week’s election, but the former France great is a likely candidate for the next vote.

Since I shall not be a candidate, and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts

Sepp Blatter

There have been widespread calls for urgent reforms within FIFA. Last week Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron called for Blatter to stand down. And on Saturday, speaking ahead of the FA Cup Final, Prince William urged FIFA to show "it can represent the interests of fair play and put the sport first."

Meanwhile Blatter said he had spent time reflecting on his career in the lead up to his decision to quit.

He joined FIFA in 1975 as technical director for development projects, and was promoted to general secretary in 1981. He spent 17 years as right-hand man to Joao Havelange of Brazil before being elected to lead world soccer.

During his final few months in office he looks set to deliver the modernizing reforms he promised in 2011 during a previous corruption crisis but fell short of expectations.

He said Tuesday: “Since I shall not be a candidate, and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.”

Such reforms could include term limits for his successor and members of the executive committee, a smaller executive panel elected by all FIFA member federations and not just by continent, and tougher integrity checks for candidates done centrally from Zurich.

Friday had marked the start of Blatter’s fifth four-year term in office – it will also be his shortest.

As he returned to office, he admitted in his victory speech: “I’m not perfect, nobody’s perfect,” and he added that he would, “bring [FIFA] back.”

He said that he took “responsibility to bring back FIFA,” adding that he would eventually hand the governing body over to his successor in a “in a very very strong position.”

(With Associated Press and Reuters)