KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH: FIFA might have avoided the storms which have assailed it over the past five years if the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 had not been awarded to Russia and Qatar.

Sepp Blatter raised that consideration in his formal presidential address at the world federation’s congress here in Zurich today.

The 79-year-old Swiss, who was standing for re-election, suggested that a critical focus had been directed at FIFA and its leadership because of the controversies over not only the dual-bid process but the awards themselves.

Much of the media assault on FIFA over the past five years has come from western, largely English-language outlets. England and the United States both saw bids for those two World Cups end in angry failure.

Blatter said: “[The World Cups] of 2018 and 2022 are being called into question. On December 2, 2010, here in Zurich, when we decided on the two World Cups in one session, if two other countries had emerged from the envelope we would not have these problems today.”

However, he acknowledged, “we can’t go back in time; in the future we cannot only focus on the words ‘a better world’ we need to do something.

“Let’s repair what has been thrown down and do this immediately, right now.”

Blatter concluded with one of his favourite seafaring analogies, recalling his comments to the crisis congress of 2011.

He urged delegates: “I appeal to all of you to join us, the executive committee and the president, to put FIFA back on the right track, where the boat will stop rocking and go placidly into port.”

‘Troubled times’

Earlier in his presidential address Blatter had conceded that FIFA had undergone “troubled times” before at election congresses, notably in 2002 in Seoul, and considered that “the events of the day before yesterday have thrown a shadow across football and this congress.”

Repeating his theme from last night’s opening ceremony, Blatter added: “We cannot let the reputation of football and FIFA be dragged through the mud like that because those behind these latest events, especially if they are convicted and found guilty, are individuals and they are not the entire organisation.

“These are certain individuals who have lost sight of the fact that our game is based on respect, sportsmanship and it is a team sport in which everyone needs to aim at the same goal and sing from the same songsheet.

“I am willing to accept that the president is responsible for everything but I would like to share that with you [delegates] or at least with the executive committee. It’s our government.

“We are at a turning point and we need to pull together and move forward. We cannot constantly supervise everybody in football. We have 209 member associations under six confederations with more than 300m active participants and, with their families and friends, we reach 1.6bn people directly or indirectly.”

Reform process

Blatter delivered a history lesson about the launch and progress of the reform process and claimed that 85pc of the proposals had been enacted.

Then, returning to the police raids earlier in the week, he admitted that this action was “not good, two before the presidential election.”

He even suggested that the arrests and indictments might not have been a total accident, saying: “I am not going to use the word ‘coincidence’ but i do have a small questionmark.”

Finally, Blatter reviewed the vast growth of football to its present sports-dominating status with a commercial and televisual attraction which “beats the figures of all other sporting competitions including the famous Olympic Games.”