LONDON (Reuters) – Embattled soccer boss Sepp Blatter has rejected complaints made by the sport’s biggest sponsors over a bribery and corruption scandal, saying they were politically motivated and made at the behest of the United States.
Blatter has been suspended from FIFA as part of the fall-out from a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into bribery, money-laundering and wire fraud at the sport’s governing body.
The 79-year-old had initially been set to remain in his post until next year, despite a string of arrests of top FIFA officials, until a group of major sponsors issued coordinated calls for him to go. Blatter was suspended a few days later.
“It is the American companies,” Blatter told the Financial Times in an interview in a reference to sponsors including Coca-Cola Co, McDonald’s, Visa, and Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev.
“The other companies haven’t said anything. So you are intelligent enough to make the connection with American companies and the American investigation. I do not need to underline that.”
FIFA, which Blatter ran for 17 years, is engulfed in the biggest scandal of its history, with 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives indicted by the United States.
Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini are both serving 90-day suspensions imposed by FIFA’s Ethics Committee, which is looking into a 2 million Swiss franc ($2.03 million) payment Blatter made to Platini in 2011 – a case that is also part of a separate Swiss criminal investigation.
The interview with the FT is the second Blatter has given this week after he also spoke to Russian news agency TASS. In that interview Blatter revealed that he had planned for Russia and the United States to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
“The solution that has been agreed, not in writing, but it has been agreed [was], let’s go to the two superpowers in the vote for the World Cup: let’s go to Russia and let’s go to the United States,” he told the FT.
Blatter said that decision had not been taken officially by FIFA’s full executive committee but was rather an agreement taken “behind the scenes”.
“It was diplomatically arranged,” he added.
The plan fell apart, according to Blatter, when Platini changed his mind and backed Qatar for the 2022 World Cup under pressure from the then-French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Blatter said the problems at FIFA had all started with the vote to award the tournament to Qatar – a small desert country with no real soccer tradition and where daytime temperatures can top 40 degrees Celsius (104F).
“If you see my face when I opened it (the envelope containing the winning bid), I was not the happiest man to say it is Qatar,” he said. “Definitely not.”
Blatter repeated his contention that the U.S. multi-million-dollar investigation was a direct result of the United States missing out on the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
“It took a political dimension,” Blatter said of the race to host the World Cup. “I am looking now to see what were the political reasons. The easiest thing would be to say (they are) bad losers.”
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)