KEIR RADNEDGE in DUBAI: FIFA president Sepp Blatter is to raise the contentious issue of workers rights with the new Emir of Qatar on November 7.
The world federation’s executive committee decided, early this month, that Blatter should raise concerns about what has been described as ‘modern slave labour’ with the rulers of the Gulf state which will host the World Cup finals in 2022.
Blatter agreed that he should do so when making a first courtesy visit to Qatar for a first formal meeting since Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani took over after his father’s abdication in June.
The date was reported in the Estad Al-Doha Arabic newspaper. The following day Blatter is scheduled to travel on to neighbouring Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.
Blatter’s ever-busy travel schedule included his current visit to England where he is a guest at tonight’s celebratory dinner in London to mark today’s 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association.
Last night Blatter addressed the Oxford Union in a humourously-cast address in which he defended the mission and role of FIFA and its worldwide development work.
As for himself, Blatter insisted: “I am a servant of football. Not a dictator.”
In a series of analogies which will cartoonists with image opportunities for many years Blatter said: “Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football. The Godfather of the FIFA gravy train . . . You may think you know what FIFA is. What it does. What it aspires to be: A faceless machine printing money at the expense of the beautiful game, with me pulling the strings and laughing all the way to the bank.
“There are those who will tell you that football is just a heartless, money-spinning game or just a pointless kick about on the grass. There are those who will tell you that FIFA is just a conspiracy, a scam, accountable to nobody.”
“There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our (James) Bond villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich, where we apparently plot to exploit the unfortunate and the weak.
“They would have you believe that I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat as my terrible sidekicks scour the earth to force countries to host the World Cup and to hand over all of their money.
“You might laugh. It is strange how fantasy so easily becomes confused with fact.
“Contrary to what you might have heard, FIFA does not expect host nations to hand over suitcases of cash to FIFA. We do not ask for billions of dollars in public money and then bury it all in the Alps.
“We are not an unscrupulous multinational company doing everything they can just for the sake of making money, selling products that do you harm, exploiting people just for the sake of the profit of a few.”
Blatter said that the surplus generated by World Cups and distributed to national federations helped to keep more than half of FIFA’s 209 member associations afloat.
He added: “You might have been led to believe FIFA is the evil Sheriff of Nottingham of football but the truth is we have more in common with Robin Hood. Taking the money we get from our commercial partners and ploughing it back into the grassroots of the game for all to benefit.”