French, German presidents tried to influence World Cup votes: Blatter

BERLIN: The embattled president of FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, told a German newspaper the presidents of France and Germany tried to exert political pressure before the World Cup was awarded to Russia and Qatar.

Sepp Blatter has become entangled in a corruption investigation of the sport's governing body, which involves the decision to hold the World Cup in the two countries. Blatter has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but he has retained an attorney.

In a story published on Sunday, the newspaper Welt am Sonntag quoted Blatter as saying: "Before the World Cup was awarded to Russia and Qatar, there were two political interventions.

"Mr (Nicolas) Sarkozy and (Christian) Wulff tried to influence their voting representatives. Therefore, we now have a World Cup in Qatar. The people who decided this should also take responsibility," he added.

No one was immediately available at Sarkozy's office or Wulff's office to comment. Welt am Sonntag reported, however, that Wulff had denied trying to influence the vote in his book.

In May, Swiss authorities arrested seven FIFA officials as part of an investigation into a global bribery scandal. The U.S. Department of Justice has now asked that Switzerland extradite the seven to the United States.

Also in May, U.S. prosecutors announced they had indicted nine current and former FIFA officials and five sports marketing businessmen in connection with a corruption investigation.

Welt am Sonntag quoted Blatter as saying the German football federation, DFB, had "received a recommendation (from Wulff) that Germany should vote for Qatar for economic interests".

FIFA said Blatter was correctly quoted.

Europe soccer chief Michel Platini has repeatedly said that nobody had asked him to vote for Qatar. "Neither Sarkozy nor anyone," he told the newspaper L'Equipe a year ago. However, the head of UEFA also said that he and Sarkozy had a lunch with Qataris.

"It's true that, when I was invited for a lunch in private with the president and I found myself with Qataris, I understood that there was a subliminal message. But I've never been asked to vote for them," Platini told L'Equipe.

Blatter announced on June 2 he would step down as FIFA's president after an election that is likely to happen this year or early next.

Blatter also told the paper he needed a "recovery phase" and said he was limiting his travel plans because of the investigation.

"I won't take any travel risks until everything has been cleared up," he said.

He did, however, say he would go to Moscow at the end of July for the draw on the qualification games for the 2018 World Cup are held. "I will go there," he said.

A U.S.-based layer said last week Blatter would not travel to Canada for Sunday's final of the women's World Cup for personal reasons. Reuters was unable to determine why Blatter had decided not to attend the final in Vancouver.

Some lawyers with experience in international criminal cases have said Blatter would be ill-advised to travel after the U.S. indictments were announced.

Blatter said he did not mind criticism but "tirades of hate hurt".

"I am now here to fight. Not for myself but for FIFA ... I am afraid that they want to destroy FIFA ... A work that I helped create," he was quoted as saying.