Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter has joined a chorus of outrage against Iran and its treatment of women, claiming the Middle Eastern country as his own should be excluded from competitions at the World Cup in Qatar.
Blatter’s scathing assessment comes amid widespread protests in the Islamic Republic sparked by the death of a woman in morality police custody.
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Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting unrest over the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code imposed on women.
The ensuing weeks of protests in Iran present one of the boldest challenges to the country’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with Blatter being one of several sporting figures to shed light on the issue.
Swiss publication Blick shared a video of the former FIFA President speaking about Iran’s participation in the World Cup, in which Blatter accused world football’s governing body of lacking the courage to do what is necessary when it comes to Iran .
“Iran should be excluded from the World Cup,” Blatter was quoted as saying by the Blick tabloid. He would have demanded harsh penalties and even banned Iran from the competition had he still been FIFA boss.
“He (current FIFA President Gianni Infantino) is already struggling to create a fund with the Qataris for all the workers who died building infrastructure.
“I think it should be done by someone from FIFA who has the guts. But Infantino doesn’t even have the guts to answer journalists.”
Blatter’s comments come after a group of former and current Iranian sportsmen sent a letter to FIFA calling on the governing body to ban the country from participating in Qatar and accusing the Football Association of Iran of violating FIFA statutes and regulations to have.
“Iran’s brutality and belligerence towards its own people has reached an inflection point and calls for a clear and decisive distancing from the football and sports world,” read a press release released alongside the letter.
Sepp Blatter says awarding the World Cup in Qatar was “a mistake”.
Blatter’s latest comments follow his bombastic admission earlier this week that giving Qatar the rights to host the World Cup was a “mistake”.
Qatar secured hosting rights to the football poster boy following a 2010 vote that ended 14-8 in favor of the Middle Eastern nation over the United States – with Blatter’s role being put to the test in subsequent years.
The hosting rights for the 2022 tournament have long faced allegations of corruption. Blatter was forced to resign from FIFA in 2015 after paying two million Swiss francs to then-UEFA President Michael Platini ahead of the vote.
Blatter has since claimed the vote went in favor of Qatar thanks to Platini, who Blatter says was influenced to do so by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Blatter, who was in charge of FIFA for around 17 years, left the organization in disgrace after the payment to Platini was made public. Violations of FIFA’s code of ethics later saw Blatter banned from football until 2028, while both men were found not guilty of cheating in a Swiss court.
The circumstances of the vote have long been linked to suspicions that Qatar will be given the rights to host the cup in 2022, especially amid longstanding human rights concerns linked to the Middle Eastern nation.
In an interview earlier this week, Blatter argued Qatar was “too small” to host the FIFA World Cup, being the smallest nation since Switzerland in 1954.
“It’s too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that. It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as President at the time,” said Blatter.
Qatar criticized for human rights record
Qatar has also faced global criticism for its human rights record and stance on homosexuality. FIFA this week sent a letter to its member states asking them to put the focus on football rather than politics at the World Cup.
Many World Cup teams and players have spoken out against Qatar’s human rights record, with members of the Socceroos squad posting a powerful video message on social media.
England manager Gareth Southgate has also commented on the debate, citing the influence of gay players in the Lionesses’ Euro 2021 squad, saying it is “highly unlikely” that the England group would heed FIFA’s request.
“We’ve always talked about issues that we feel we should be talking about, particularly those that we believe we can influence,” Southgate told reporters.
“Contrary to an observation or two over the last few weeks, we have spoken about this tournament, the human rights challenges, in the same way as other nations. We have made our position on this very clear.
“So, I think we want to focus mainly on football. For every player, coach and anyone traveling to a World Cup, this is a football carnival.
“It’s what you work your whole life for, and you don’t want it to be diminished by everything else that’s going on around you right now. But we recognize that we will get into this situation, we have to accept it and deal with it.”
Speaking of Qatar’s tough anti-LGBT laws, Southgate added: “So in terms of the LGBT community, we stand for inclusivity and we’re very, very strong at that. We think this is important for all of our supporters.
“We know the challenges that this tournament brings… without the strength of this community we wouldn’t be European Women’s Champions. So it’s very, very important to us.”
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