STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Lennart Johansson, former president of European football’s governing body UEFA, says the decision to award the World Cup to Russia and Qatar must now be reviewed in the light of the latest corruption allegations.
Johansson, who lost the 1998 FIFA presidential election to Sepp Blatter, would like to see the 2018 finals played inEngland instead of Russia, with a new process also to choose the host of the 2022 tournament, currently set for Qatar.
The Swede spoke to newspaper Sportbladet after an early-morning swoop by police saw seven high-ranking FIFA members arrested on suspicion of corruption.
“I‘m not surprised at what is happening,” the 85-year-old told Sportbladet as he packed his bags to attend the FIFA congress in Zurich. “Blatter will obviously ensure that he wins the election in his own way. I think it’s unfortunate that the world’s biggest sporting movement has such a leader at the top. I really do.”
Johansson, who led UEFA for 17 years before retiring in 2007, says that the decision to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 should and will be changed.
“I expect they will reconsider the decisions. Blatter himself has said that the decision to go east wasn’t proper. I am sure the initiative will now be taken to make a new decision.”
Given the choice, Johansson would like to see the 2018 finals played in England.
“They (England) haven’t had it since 1966, and it’s considered ‘the motherland of football’, whatever we might think. They are worthy of the attention,” Johansson said.
England, backed by the British government, made a bid to host the 2018 finals.
The bidding process proved controversial, with two members of the FIFA executive committee having their voting rights suspended following allegations they would accept money in exchange for votes.
England and Russia’s 2018 bids were also mired in controversy and hostility after the English bid team officially complained about provocative comments from the Russian bid chief. They only withdrew the complaint after an apology.
More allegations of vote buying arose after Qatar’s controversial 2022 win was announced.
Johansson, the Honorary UEFA President, will fly to Zurich to attend the FIFA congress on Thursday, but he is not entitled to vote in Friday’s presidential election which sees incumbent Blatter seeking to repel the challenge of Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan.
Writing by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ian Chadband