VIENNA: Sepp Blatter took inordinate pains to steer well clear of the forthcoming FIFA presidential election when he addressed UEFA Congress in Vienna writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The European federation had invited Blatter and his three UEFA-backed challengers – Prince Ali of Jordan, Dutch federation president Michael Van Praag and ex-World Player of the Year Luis Figo – to present their competing campaigning visions.

Blatter, however, had refused to fight it out on the UEFA Congress stage and insisted he would speak only in his role as president of FIFA.

Hence he treated delegates from all the European associations plus presidents of other confederations to an anodyne collection of generalities and platitudes.

His awareness, however, that he was on ‘enemy territory’ may have been the source of a minor slip of the tongue when he referred to Chile hosting the Copa Libertadores club tournament this year when he meant the Copa America.

Last June in Sao Paulo, at UEFA’s conference on the eve of the World Cup, Blatter was confronted openly by demands that he keep his 2011 promise to retire this year as FIFA president.

This time he was heard in silence and afforded polite applause at the conclusion of his remarks.

Switching from German to French to English Blatter hailed Europe as the cradle of the “most popular sport of all times” which now encompased the direct and indirect involvement of 1.6bn people around the world.

He went on to praise Germany for their World Cup victory last year and the successes of other European teams in FIFA competitions, including Real Madrid in the Club World Cup.

Regular themes

Football’s popularity also brought responsibility to undertake a “mission” – one of Blatter’s personal favourite concepts – “to do something, at least indirectly for peace, and maybe not resolve but at least help in certain conflict situations.”

He appealed for unity and solidarity throughout the football world, thanked UEFA and its president Michel Platini for a “remarkable contribution to the development of football on a global level.”

Blatter then reiterated themes from his press conference after last week’s FIFA executive committee, expressing his opposition to politicians’ attempts to impose sports boycotts and endorsing the autonomy of sport.

“Solidarity and unity,” said Blatter, “is the message for today, for tomorrow and for the future for the good of the game, for the world and for UEFA.”