ZURICH: Sepp Blatter may be president of world football federation but the major highlight of 2012 was . . . the Olympic Games.
To be fair, in a review of the past 12 months, Blatter – a member of the International Olympic Committee – was referring specifically to the men’s and women’s football tournaments.
Elsewhere, via an in-house interview with FIFA.com, Blatter repeated his consistent and regularly-repeated concern over issues such as racism and discrimination as well as matchfixing but also his approval of the advent of goal-line technology and the progress effected in reforming FIFA.
Last year was a very rich 12 months in terms of football, but what were your highlights of 2012?
Definitely the highlight of 2012 for me was women’s football. We had two competitions in the FIFA calendar, with the U-20s and the U-17s. The U-17s was played for the first time in a Muslim country, in Azerbaijan, and it was a huge success and had a surprising winner with France.
We had the U-20s in Japan, here the winner was not a surprise as the USA girls have been working hard on the development of football and have been doing it for the last years.
The highlight though was definitely the Olympic Games in London. Who would have expected, and especially not me I must confess, so many spectators and such enthusiasm for women’s football?
Who would have thought about this immense euphoria finally for women’s football? It was great. To have 80,000 people at Wembley, the temple of men’s football, for a match there was really something.
It was no surprise that for the third time in a row the USA women were Olympic champions, beating Japan, having lost the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup final.
But we also had the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, which ended with a big surprise as Mexico upset the Brazilians.
There was also another big event, the Futsal World Cup in Thailand, and we had the same final as we had in the past few years: Spain against Brazil.
Brazil were again the victorious team after extra-time, scoring in the final seconds. Then we had a surprising but good winner at the Club World Cup: the big team from Sao Paulo, Corinthians.
The Hincha of Corinthians have shown to the world that they are more than just fans. Corinthians won the match against Chelsea, the European champion, and there has been a lot of enthusiasm in the Americas – north and south – now they have reclaimed this title.
This year began with the FIFA Gala. What are your views on the winners?
Lionel Messi is currently the best player therefore we are very proud that the voters have made such a clear decision. However, as we invite the three remaining candidates, perhaps we should give three medals to avoid two of them going home empty-handed. This is something we should think about for the future.
The year also started with a very sad incident in a game with AC Milan. The issue of racism is not new in society and football, and not easy to solve, but what solutions do you have in mind?
It is a phenomenon in which football is a victim of our society. Discrimination and racism is everywhere in our society.
We in football cannot be made responsible for what happens in our society. But nowhere in the world – regarding all the problems you can have in your private life, in business, in politics – can you solve a problem by running away.
I agree with and support the action of Boateng – as I have said – as it was a strong warning. It is now up to us to take the adequate steps.
What I feel we should do is give instructions to our national associations and the confederations – specifically to the disciplinary committees – to be very strong.
It is not enough to give a fine. Playing a game without spectators is one of the possible sanctions, but the best would be the deduction of points and the relegation of a team, because finally the club is responsible for their spectators.
Goal-line technology was used for the first time at the FIFA Club World Cup. No specific case arose for its intervention, but do you see this step as an important one for refereeing?
Referees have said it is a big help for them. This is the solution to say whether the ball is in the goal or not. By television cameras you cannot see it, because the ball is too fast and also human eyes cannot do it.
We now have a system, we have to use it. I took this decision at the time when I saw the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when [Frank] Lampard scored a goal and everybody on television saw it but the officials could not.
So, I said if we have adequate systems, we have to use them for the next FIFA World Cup. If we do not use them and a similar situation happened then we really would look like fools.
We now have the systems, we have used them in the Club World Cup, we will now use one in the Confederations Cup – it is a step forward.
It is just a question of time until the big leagues use them as it is a big help for the referees but also it will give, I would say, the best judgment as to whether a goal is scored or not.
Match-fixing is another big issue currently. Do you consider it one of football’s enemies?
It is one of the devils of football. If people know a match can be fixed then they will no longer believe in the outcome in our sport.
We are working here together with the political authorities and also with Interpol. What is necessary is solidarity within the football community.
Then, when players, coaches and referees are touched by these people they should immediately disclose it, acting as whistle-blowers. Only then can we intervene effectively.
The best coach in the world, Vicente Del Bosque, spoke of this when receiving the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football award – ethics and solidarity in football.
A set of reforms is now in place at FIFA. Are you satisfied with the implementation?
Yes, absolutely. We have completed two-thirds of the steps we planned.
We now have an independent Ethics Committee with two chambers. We have an independent committee for Audit and Compliance, and we have already taken some decisions concerning the statutes – designation of the FIFA World Cup will be done now by the Congress from a shortlist produced by the FIFA Executive Committee.
Now we are in the last round and we will bring it to an end by proposing some changes to the statutes to the 2013 congress. They will speak about the duration of mandates, age limits and such items.
Now we are consulting the national associations through the confederations, and in the March Executive Committee meeting we will have the results and see what we have to change.
But, honestly, our statutes as they are now are practically corresponding to the reality of football.
What was especially necessary for us was to have the Ethics Committee and the Audit and Compliance Committee but this will only work if they are installed in all the national federations and confederations.
FIFA alone cannot be the tribunal for the 300 million people involved in football.
We also thank the Independent Governance Committee with Professor [Mark] Pieth, who has given us some hints and incentives to have a look inside.
In Mauritius I am convinced we will bring our reform programme to an end. It’s a big change. If you look at the FIFA Executive Committee, there will be a lot of changes by next May from when we took our first steps in 2011.
It’s now 38 years since you joined FIFA, in which time the boat has had some quiet times but also some rough times, yet you’re still enthusiastic. What keeps you motivated?
I joined FIFA in February 1975. I jumped in because I had the opportunity to work in football, which was always my passion. I was a football player myself and I still touch the ball now and then.
When I started to work for FIFA I immediately saw that football is more than a game, and I realised that specifically in Africa. But it’s actually all around the world.
It’s my life and I’m still convinced we are on the right track, because football shall play a social and cultural part in our society through discipline, respect and fair play.
If we can bring discipline, respect and fair play into our families, schools, politics, the economy, everywhere in our society, then we will have realised something.
It will not be easy as if you have a family of 300 million people, you cannot convince everyone to be on the right track, but we still try it.
One thing we also have to take care of now and in the future is health, as it is no good just to develop the game and have more players, coaches and referees if you don’t take care of the health of the participants.
The FIFA Confederations Cup, which is seen as a rehearsal for the FIFA World Cup™, will unfold in 2013. Are your expectations high for the tournament in terms of football and the organisation?
It will be kind of a rehearsal in terms of the Local Organising Committee and especially the logistics.
There’s no doubt the stadia will be ready, but we want to see how a stadium is filled and emptied, how people are transported and all these logistical issues.
But speaking about a rehearsal does not do justice to this event – it is really a rendezvous of champions. If you see the teams qualified, it is extraordinary!
This year will also see the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. Why you are so attached to this tournament?
The Under-20 World Cup was the first one we put into our programme when we started it with Joao Havelange, the FIFA president at the time, who had the idea that football should be universal – this was the development programme.
But if you develop football you must have more than just the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. The U-19 tournament started in 1977 with its first edition in Tunisia.
Then the second one, which was already quite big, was in Tokyo where the final saw the legacy of Maradona begin. Argentina scored three times in the last ten minutes after trailing to Soviet Union, and from that moment on the U-20 tournament became a showcasing stage for future stars.
In terms of its importance in FIFA, it is definitely the second-most important competition behind the FIFA World Cup.
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