Blatter’s FIFA Resignation Casts Doubts Over Russia, Qatar World Cups

Russia and Qatar lost the strongest supporter of their bids to host the next two World Cups when FIFA President  Sepp Blatter resigned his post on Tuesday, casting further doubt on whether the controversy-marred tournaments would be played as scheduled.

FIFA is now likely to face further calls for a revote on both tournaments, or a transparent probe into how they were awarded.

Qatar and Russia were both named hosts in a joint bidding process in 2010, the first time countries have been awarded the quadrennial event at the same time.

Last week, U.S. officials brought charges against more than a dozen current and former FIFA officials and sports-marketing executives, alleging widespread corruption and bribery over more than two decades at the world soccer governing body. Swiss prosecutors are investigating how FIFA awarded the hosting rights for both tournaments.

“Blatter and Qatar came hand in hand,” said  Ben Sturner, the chief executive of Leverage Agency, a New York-based sports and entertainment firm. He said it was unlikely Russia would be stripped of the tournament as it is only three years away.

Blatter’s resignation “is a harbinger for more investigations,” he added.

Blatter was re-elected on Friday to a fifth term by FIFA’s 209 national associations. 

On Tuesday,Blatter said he would step down as he no longer had the support of soccer fans around the world. U.S. authorities confirmed they are gathering evidence linking him to the sweeping investigation into alleged corruption at FIFA. 

Azzmy Megahed, spokesman for the Egyptian Football Association, said Qatar’s chances of hosting the 2022 World Cup had “dwindled drastically” with Mr. Blatter’s resignation.

“All details of improprieties will be revealed and broader investigations will be carried out,” Mr. Megahed said.

The oil-rich Gulf country of Qatar has repeatedly faced allegations that it bribed FIFA officials for votes. 

Last year, its organizing committee denied allegations by a British newspaper, the Sunday Times, that Qatari FIFA official  Mohamed bin Hammam had paid bribes to win hosting rights.

Qatar’s World Cup organizing group, known as the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, declined to comment on Tuesday. 

A Kremlin spokesman told Russian news agency Interfax that he couldn’t comment.

Last year, Mr. Blatter said criticism of the Qatar event was motivated by “discrimination and racism” and called on FIFA to unite in the face of alleged corruption.

His sudden resignation appeared to catch many in Moscow off guard.

“I’m shocked,”  Vyacheslav Koloskov, honorary chairman of the Russian Football Union, told Interfax, the state news agency. “He had held on, won the election. Everyone with their own eyes saw him accepting the congratulations. Then two days later, he makes this decision. Some facts must have emerged.”

Russian officials have expressed confidence that the probes won’t affect the 2018 World Cup, for which billions of dollars have already been spent on stadium and other construction.

“Whatever happens, I’m confident that the 2018 World Cup will take place in Russia because our bid was the best,”  Igor Ananskykh, chairman of the sports committee in the lower house of Parliament, told Interfax.

He also noted that the likely successors to Mr. Blatter were also supporters of Russia’s bid.  Michael Platini, one of the favorites, also backed Qatar in its bid.

Stadium construction has been under way for more than a year at the dozen venues in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities, and Russia is also upgrading airports and railroads as part of preparations for an event that is slated to span 11 cities.

One voice hinting a possible reassessment of the plans was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who wrote on his Facebook page that Mr. Blatter’s resignation as head of FIFA “gives hope for a cancellation of some corruption-motivated decisions of that organization.” He didn’t mention specific countries.

Qatar is currently in the middle of a $200 billion spending spree on domestic infrastructure, with World Cup venues the tentpoles.

Investment bank  Credit Suisse  last year warned that Qatar’s stock market could plunge 20% if it is stripped of the tournament. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, meanwhile, estimated the potential losses at around $16 billion.





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