It is a story of greed, power, and the world’s most-loved sport: football. In December 2010, the world of sport was rocked by FIFA’s decision to award Qatar – a tiny, yet oil-rich desert nation in the Middle East – the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. With baking summer temperatures, a population mostly indifferent to football and a fundamental lack of infrastructure needed to be able to host an international sports tournament, Qatar was a rank outsider to host the World Cup. But ever since, the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid has been the centre of a firestorm of alleged corruption, scandal, and media attention.
As the 2022 World Cup in Qatar inches ever closer, brand-new two-part documentary special The Men Who Sold the World Cup (available to stream from Thursday 21st October exclusively on discovery+) follows two UK investigative journalists and their quest to uncover the truth. Speaking exclusively in the documentary, FIFA’s former president Sepp Blatter reveals that he wanted the 2022 World Cup to go to the USA, going as far as speaking with then US President Barack Obama about the tournament coming stateside.
When Blatter announced in 2010 that Qatar was to be the host nation of the 2022 World Cup, the world was stunned. Pipping the United States of America to the post, it was a result that few predicted. What followed was a story of alleged corruption and greed, with allegations of bribery used to influence some FIFA officials to vote for the World Cup to go to an oil-rich nation with relatively little interest in football. Speaking exclusively, FIFA’s former media director Guido Tognoni sensationally suggests that Blatter never wanted the World Cup to go to Qatar. “Sepp Blatter, in fairness, he did not want to go to Qatar. He wanted to go to Russia and then to the United States,” he says. Following the success of the 1994 World Cup, Blatter admits that he saw the World Cup going back to the USA, even going as far as sharing his ambition with the then US President Barack Obama. “I told the President my idea, that the World Cup 2022 shall go back to the United States,” he says. “We would not have this discussion if it came out as I wanted.”
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Blatter announces the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar

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Blatter wasn’t the only one who wanted the 2022 World Cup to go to the United States. Speaking in the documentary, Sunil Gulati, the chairman of the USA’s 2022 Bid Team, admits he believed Qatar’s bid was nothing more than a fantasy. “I thought, frankly, that it was a fantasy for Qatar at the beginning. But dreams can come true,” he says. As journalist Sam Borden adds, the US went in hard with their bid. “The United States went really hard after the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup,” he comments. “They put together a really expansive campaign, they had a bid committee that brought in all types of celebrities to help make the case.”
While the US looked odds-on to bring the World Cup stateside, some FIFA officials had other ideas. In 2014, The Sunday Times’ investigative journalists Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert received a tip-off from a source close to FIFA. “A trusted source, who we’d worked with previously, told us that they were in contact with someone who had access to a vast cache of documents which they said could potentially blow the lid off the Qatari bid,” Heidi says. For Borden, this shady culture of corruption by some FIFA officials was nothing new. “For almost as long as I can remember, there have been questions about the ethics behind how decisions were made by the Executive Committee about where the World Cup is held,” he says. “Almost all of the awards of World Cup hosting venues – 2002, 2006, 2010 – were tainted.”
For their campaign, the US Bid Team brought in a host of celebrities to elevate their pitch to the Executive Committee, including Landon Donovan, the poster boy of US Football. “Going to Switzerland and being part of the 2022 bid was a bizarre experience for a 28-year-old kid, who was so naïve to that world,” he remembers. “I was thrilled to be there giving that presentation to ExCo members, and naively thought it would matter.” Speaking in the documentary, Landon recalls his impassioned speech falling on deaf ears. “Looking down and seeing people sleeping, not paying attention, on their phones, did make me think it was a foregone conclusion. People had already made up their minds,” he says. As Gulati puts it, despite his desire to bring the World Cup to the US, breaking the rules was never an option. “I went over and met with Mr Blatter before we announced that we were going to bid and I said ‘look, we’re not going to do whatever it takes,’” he recalls. “To use a soccer metaphor, if the ball was a yard away from the line and there was a chance to punch it in with a handball, we weren’t going to do that.”

FIFA have been embroiled in controversy over the 2022 World Cup

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During his investigations into FIFA, Jonathan Calvert went undercover, posing as a representative from a group of US companies with an invested interest in hosting the World Cup in the USA. Meeting various FIFA stakeholders, the scale of corruption with some FIFA officials became apparent. “When it comes to talking about things like corruption and bribes, people are very circumspect. They don’t say it outright. And what was extraordinary about this was just how open everyone was about the culture of bribery,” he reveals. “It was as if it was expected that this was the moment that they could earn their fortune.” Published in 2014, The Sunday Times’ exposé on the World Cup corruption scandal caused shockwaves around the world. As Blake puts it, the level of corruption that was found in the investigation was staggering. “It was corruption on an industrial scale,” she says. “There was no way that other countries were going to be able to compete.” To this day, Blatter insists that FIFA is not corrupt. “What can you do against the international media saying FIFA is corrupt? FIFA is not corrupt,” he says. “People in FIFA were corrupt. But as they were members of FIFA, naturally they say ‘who is responsible? It’s the president.’” Continuing, Blatter defiantly denies any links with the corruptions claims. “People should realise that I have given 41 years into the FIFA. What I have done for football, they should appreciate,” he says. “You can convince everybody of something, but you cannot convince yourself of something you are not. So, I cannot convince me [sic] to say you are a criminal because I'm not a criminal.”
While some suggest that corruption within some FIFA circles was rife, it is alleged that business ties were influential in winning the World Cup hosting rights. “Huge international deals were actually the bargaining chip being traded around in world football in exchange for World Cup votes,” Heidi says “Michel Platini, the former France superstar and FIFA Executive Committee member, had previously pledged his support for the American bid. But he came under increasing pressure from Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French President, to switch his support to Qatar. That was because Sarkozy was eyeing a number of major deals with Qatar.” As Blatter puts it, Platini "lost courage" at the 11th hour. “He was the president of UEFA at the time and he told me that he was asked his group should vote for Qatar. And four votes go to Qatar,” Blatter reveals. “It was impossible for the US to win. Platini lost courage; he should have said to the President ‘no, we go to do something for the world and not something only for one country. This is my biggest defeat that I have witnessed.” However, Former FIFA ExCo member Platini denies that French President Sarkozy pressured him to vote for Qatar’s World Cup bid.
The Men Who Sold The World Cup will be available to stream from Thursday 21st October exclusively on discovery+
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