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Blatter defends Russia, Qatar World Cup selections

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

JOHANNESBURG -- FIFA President Sepp Blatter insisted Monday that the votes to award World Cups to Russia and Qatar were based on developing soccer and had nothing to do with money.

He also noted that the world's biggest soccer tournament will have to adjust to more than just the sweltering desert heat when it takes its party-like atmosphere to the Middle East in 2022.

Blatter said that homosexual fans "should refrain from any sexual activities" that are illegal in Qatar.

Drinking alcohol also is restricted in the country, but Blatter hopes soccer's universal appeal will bridge cultural differences at the 2022 World Cup.

"It's another culture and another religion, but in football we have no boundaries," said Blatter, who was in South Africa for the official closing of the 2010 World Cup. "We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings, being on this side or that side, left or right or whatever.

"Football is a game that does not affect any discrimination. You may be assured ... if people want to watch a match in Qatar in 2022, they will be admitted to matches."

Having praised South Africa's tournament as an example of the success a first-time host can achieve, Blatter added during his appearance at Soccer City that he thought there was "too much concern" for the World Cup in Qatar.

FIFA has been criticized for choosing Russia and Qatar over more traditional soccer countries during a Dec. 2 vote that took place without two members of the executive committee who were suspended for allegedly agreeing to take money for their support.

In his first public address since the vote, Blatter defended FIFA's choices.

"We go to Eastern Europe, to Russia where the World Cup has never been. And later on, we go to the Middle East, we go to the Arabic world, we go to the Islamic world," Blatter said.

"This is the development of football and don't speak about money. This has nothing to do with money, as it had nothing to do with money here in Africa. It has to do with the development of the game," he said, pounding the podium with his fist for emphasis.

Blatter also announced a $100 million legacy fund for South Africa. He said $20 million had already been used to build a new South African Football Association headquarters and for part of the organizing of the competition, but promised the remainder would go to "social and community projects."

FIFA earned an estimated $3.5 billion from this year's World Cup.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma, who had met with Blatter at Soccer City earlier Monday, said he hoped the first World Cup in Africa would act as a catalyst for development in the country.

"We are officially closing one of the major highlights and success stories of the year," Zuma said. "We hosted a memorable World Cup."

Blatter said he was proud of the South African tournament.

"FIFA's World Cup is not a circus, coming into a country, putting up some tents and when the performance is over, taking everything with and perhaps some more and going home," he said. "No, FIFA's World Cup is more than that."