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Blatter blames France, Germany for Qatar choice

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gives a speech during the final presentation and the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA
FIFA President Sepp Blatter gives a speech during the final presentation and the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA

By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - France and Germany should be held to account over the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar because they exerted political pressure to award the 2022 World Cup to the tiny Gulf state, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Friday.

Blatter said financial interests prompted Europe's two largest economies to lobby for a Qatar tournament and that construction companies were ultimately responsible for the treatment of their workers.

FIFA has faced a series of controversies since it awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010, with the latest fuelled by reports of rife exploitation of migrant workers in the country's construction sector.

Speaking at a Rome press conference, Blatter said the vote to award the tournament to Qatar was influenced by "political pressure from European countries...because there were so many economic interests."

"Two of these countries pressured the voting men in FIFA: France and Germany...I think the heads of state of these two countries should also express what they think of this situation," Blatter said.

The European Parliament urged FIFA to pressure Qatar to address labor conditions in stadiums and infrastructure under construction for the event on Thursday.

"It's easy to say all the responsibilities lie on FIFA. No, no, we are part of this responsibility," Blatter said.

The French and German governments did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CONTROVERSIES

Blatter's comments come after scathing reports by Amnesty International and Britain's Guardian newspaper, which said migrant workers suffer rife abuse, live in squalid accommodation and are sometimes denied their wages or from returning home.

The International Trade Union Confederation said 4,000 workers' lives would be at risk before the tournament started.

But Blatter indicated it was unreasonable for European politicians to express concern about labor abuses, saying "most" large companies working in Qatar were European.

Construction contracts in the run up to the World Cup have predominantly been awarded to large multinational western firms. The Amnesty International report found the majority of abuses involved workers employed by small subcontractors.

"There are companies from Europe, Qatar and many other countries involved in large construction projects in Qatar. All companies must ensure the rights of workers are respected in their contractual chains," Sherif Elsayed Ali, Head of Refugee and Migrants' rights in Amnesty International said.

"FIFA must not downplay its own role and responsibilities."

Blatter said Qatar had written a 10-point plan to address labor rights, and that FIFA would decide its course of action after consultations early next year.

The world soccer body is currently examining whether the tournament should be held in the winter rather than its traditional June-July slot, to avoid summer temperatures that reach 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).

Qatari officials have dismissed accusations that some of the 22-member committee were bribed to sway the vote. Blatter has said in the past the decision may have been a mistake.

(Additional reporting by Amena Bakr, editing by Justin Palmer)

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