(WFI) FIFA has hit back at claims in Der Spiegel newspaper suggesting president Sepp Blatter told Norwegian football officials that Qatar will lose 2022 World Cup hosting rights.

The German newspaper reported that Blatter told some Norwegian FA executives at a dinner last month that “the 2022 World Cup won’t take place in Qatar”, fuelling speculation that FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert could announce the decision this week. The German judge is due to issue a statement in the coming days into Michael Garcia’s probe into allegations of corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA’s Qatar 2022 task force is currently working to determine an alternate date for the tournament to avoid the Gulf nation’s searing summer heat. Following a meeting last month, FIFA No. 2 Jerome Valcke said the most likely options were January-February or November-December. But there has been no indication from FIFA in recent months that the World Cup would be relocated from the Middle East country, with Garcia’s initial statement on his investigation pointing to less severe sanctions for “some individuals” and bidding nations.

FIFA said the Der Spiegel claims were “unfounded”.

“With regard to the story in Der Spiegel, FIFA wants to reiterate that the information provided by the sources‎ does not reflect what actually happened at the dinner in question, which was held during the FIFA President’s visit to Oslo in October,” a FIFA spokesperson told INSIDER.

“The claims made by the sources are unfounded. The 2022 FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar.”

FIFA said the focus of discussion that evening was the Handshake for Peace project – a joint initiative between the Norwegian FA, the Nobel Peace Center and FIFA – and the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match between Norway and Bulgaria. Blatter attended at the invitation of the Norwegian FA.

“The topic of Qatar and the 2022 World Cup were talked about very briefly. Dates were discussed as there are presently discussions taking place to determine when will be the best time to stage the tournament in that calendar year and the Emir, who had visited FIFA president Blatter only a few days earlier in Zurich, was mentioned,” FIFA said.

“In this context, the FIFA president spoke of how, in the meeting in Zurich, he had congratulated the Emir on speaking clearly during the previous day’s state visit to Germany, where the Emir had met with Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Der Spiegel said the Swiss head of FIFA had called Qatar’s rulers “arrogant” and allegedly criticised them for supporting the Islamic State terrorist group.

FIFA dismissed the claims. “In response to a journalist’s question as to whether Qatar was financing the Islamic State (IS) group, the Emir refuted the suggestion in no uncertain terms,” the spokeperson added.

“FIFA president Blatter praised the Emir for that in Zurich and mentioned it in conversation at the table in Oslo. In no way did the FIFA president associate Qatar with IS. The atmosphere at this dinner with the executive committee members of the Norwegian FA was pleasant, friendly and relaxed.”

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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