KEIR RADNEDGE in ABU DHABI: The possibility of other Middle East countries – and not only in the Gulf – hosting matches in the 2022 World Cup has been reopened by Sepp Blatter.

Blatter was speaking here in the United Arab Emirates ahead of the final and third-place play-off in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

He had flown in from a two-day visit to Iran and travels on tomorrow to meet the new Emir in Qatar after being lobbied for a share of the 2022 action by the hosts’ neighbours.

Sharing the matches around had been raised initially by the president of UEFA, Michel Platini. The Frenchman had raised the issue with the former Emir while the Qataris were campaigning ahead of the controversial host award by the FIFA executive committee in December 2010.

Next week the Qatar Supreme Committee is expected to unveil the construction schedule for one of its major new stadia and will not welcome acquisitive eyes being cast on the finals by their neighbours.

Blatter, asked about the possibility of match-sharing, said: “I keep a big question mark on this. I have just passed through Iran and, even on a political level, people told me they would be happy to host some of the matches.

“So not even in the Gulf state but in the Middle East in general people care about this. The UAE would also be very eager but let’s go step by step.

“The first step is to se how it can be played in November-December and this shall be until the next World Cup: we have six, nine, months time to do so.

“Also, I want to avoid all this criticism concerning workers’ rights but this is another problem.

“To have the finals in different countries is not a new fact and I am sure it is something on the table at a certain time.”

Blatter said the UAE Sports Minister had stressed the Emirates’ ambition to stage more FIFA events. He suggested that, after having hosted the World Under-20s and now Under-17s in recent years, the UAE might consider bidding for one of the women’s tournaments.

In the meantime, as Blatter acknowledged: “They would like to be a part of the big World Cup.”

Inevitably, Blatter’s comments will prompt speculation that some voices within FIFA believe the threat of match-sharing might persuade the Qataris of a need to take meaningful action, rather than words, over the issue of workers’ rights in the much-criticised local construction industry.