KEIR RADNEDGE in MANCHESTER: Sepp Blatter is president of world federation FIFA and, as such, possesses a confidence on office which enables him to talk freely about any issue in football.
He did precisely that in a 40-minute interview with Jeff Powell, the veteran Daily Mail sports writer, which was broadcast as a keynote opening to the Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester today.
Blatter ranged across a swathe of topics from the delight of the World Cup in Brazil, his intention to carry on, football development, all the contentious issues surrounding the World Cups in Russia and Qatar, personal criticism, English football, the fight against racism . . . and his own definition of his ‘mission’
How worried were you before the World Cup in Brazil about some of the problems and how surprised or satisfied are you now?
I was not worried about the construction of the stadia because it’s now my 10th World Cup working for FIFA and it’s always have been a problem, at the last minute, to arrange something.
There was still a question mark whether the social unrest would start again, as during the Confederations Cup. But it was also my feeling and my prediction that once it kicked off the Brazilian nation would be fully in the game – and this happened. It was a great and bright World Cup.
Were you surprised that the Brazilians stayed with their beautiful game until the end despite the results of their own team?
This was a surprise, I have to say. But as they have lost with such a high score [to Germany] it was not questionable who was the better team. I think if the result had been by penalty kicks or whatever then the reaction would have been different. But the result has shown [to the Brazilians] that ‘we have a good team but not good enough.’
Why do you think there was such exciting football right from the start?
We have to compliment the technical directors and coaches because they wanted to win. In past World Cups they didn’t want to lose. This gave this World Cup, from the very beginning, a spectacular issue, going for goals and scoring goals. That is football – football is attacking. You have to take risk and not wait.
This was great. You could also see the players were well prepared. They are all artists now. You have [even] seen how the goalkeepers participated in these games. It was just great. It was in my opinion the best World Cup I have ever met in terms of the quality of football and the ambience in all the cities, in all the stadia. Really it went under the skin.
Is this spirit carrying over into club football?
I think this World Cup set the bar very high as far as football is concerned. When you are looking now at the start of the different leagues I don’t think they have reached the same level. I haven’t seen such thrilling matches as we have had in Brazil. But I am sure, in one month’s time, club football in Europe and other continents – but especially in Europe – will again be at the highest possible level
How strongly do you want to carry on as president of FIFA?
You see a mission is never finished – And my mission is not finished. I told FIFA Congress. I told the congresses of the confederations [on the eve of FIFA Congress]. Then I got through the last congress in Sao Paulo not only the impression but the support of a huge majority of national associations asking: ‘Please go on, be our president also in future.’
Now I would make an official declaration definitely in September now when we have the [next] executive committee. I will inform the executive committee. It’s a question of respect to say then to the football family: ‘Yes I will be ready. I will be a candidate.’
Were you surprised by Michel Platini’s decision not to stand for the FIFA presidency next year?
I was not surprised because in private conversations I have had with Michel Platini before, during and after the World Cup he has confirmed he would not be a candidate … but said: ‘There will be someone who will be your contender who will be contesting you.’
For me it was not a surprise because he told me so and I think he is a reliable man when he is not only speaking colleague to colleague but friend to friend – even if we are not always at the same idea in football . . . I am sure that at the end of the day with UEFA and the five other confederations there will be a get-together for the benefit of football whoever at the end will be a candidate elected next year.
How does FIFA distribute its World Cup revenues for development across the world?
We don’t have the figures yet but we have had a turnover of $4.5bn now for the last four years, including the World Cup – and the World Cup is the only income of FIFA.
When Dr Joao Havelange came into the FIFA presidency in 1974 … we started the development of football. FIFA is investing a lot of money. I would say 70pc of the income of FIFA goes back into the development of FIFA and organisation of competitions.
For example . . . Costa Rica, that is an association that for years and years are doing a lot in the development of youth and grass roots football. They are not only at the FIFA World Cup but have teams at the Under-17 and Under-20 youth competitions. They have organised an Under-17s Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica.
So it’s not a surprise that a lot of other national associations try to imitate them – what they can do we can also do because it is a small country.
Can you do anything to improve English football?
I cannot do that because England is strong enough to do it. But I can tell you an anecdote from Brazilian football.
Brazilians said: “We lost many years in developing our football.” But then I said: “When Joao Havelange was the president, he told me: ‘When you make development programmes, you don’t need to go to Brazil, they don’t need development of their football.” But it did need development – so they will start again.
What about the controversies over the forthcoming World Cups in Russia and Qatar?
We have a meeting today in Zurich with the participants – or you could call them stakeholders – being the players’ union, FIFPro, the clubs, the leagues, some federations, the six continental confederations.
Their secretary-generals are there to work on the international calendar and then to have a look. We have already said we cannot play in summer in this heat in Qatar, then we have to play in winter.
Now we are making this consultation but it is the first official [such meeting].
So far, the FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke has made some contact by telephone with the different leagues but now we will bring them together and identify what is the best possible solution and when is the best possible moment to play in Qatar. But that decision is not yet taken. Concerning 2018, in Russia, this is also having some problems. But the decisions have been taken and we trust in the strengths of football that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be played.
There are already some voices about 2018 talking about a boycott but a boycott in sport never has had any benefit. Let us wait and see the geo-political situation and FIFA shall not intervene with politics. But for the time being we are working with Russia. I have been there three weeks ago and I have had the report on the stadium work they are doing and they are on track.
But when politics interferes with individual associations, you take a very strong stance against that, don’t you?
Absolutely. We now have a problem which is a big one which is Nigeria because there was political interference.
On the other hand, FIFA can help to find a solution with the benefit of football. We did it in the island of Cyprus where now the Greek part and the Turkish part can play club football among them. There is no more wall between them. This is a benefit of football that has helped.
We are also trying to help and bring a solution that is really, really difficult between Israel and Palestine. Here again football can help.
Football cannot be the driving force to try to find political solutions but the the aim of football is to work for a better world. This is what we are doing and trying with all our development problems.
Absolutely. We are monitoring but not interfering. For the time being we are strong to maintain the organisation of the World Cup in Russia and in Qatar in 2022. Concerning Qatar we still await the report of FIFA’s ethics committee who have made an indepth investigation and we are awaiting the results of that this month or next month.
Is Michael Garcia satisfied, from the responses he has received, that his information is complete?
Ask him. The reality is that ethics committee is totally independent and Mr Garcia does not like it even if the president asks him what he is doing and how it is going on.
Anyway, for the procedure we have to say that Mr Garcia is the chair of the investigatory chamber and the investigatory chamber must give the report to the tribunal. This tribunal – the adjudicatory chamber – has another boss there – a high judge of Bavaria, Mr Hans-Joachim Eckert. He then has to take a decision which will be communicated to the FIFA executive committee and then to the world.
You appear comfortable that this is a completely independent inquiry. Is that is a rebuke to those who cast aspersions on the Qatar decision – the allegations of corruption?
Absolutely. This was my idea in 2011 when FIFA was under threat, attacks and criticism. I said at the Congress in Zurich in 2011 that we will have an independent committee for ethics with two chambers. We already had a committee but it was not independent.
So we have started with transparency and ethics – two items we need in our world. Especially in the world of football when you take the big figures involved: 300m active participants, with their families, 1.2bn. They cannot all be angels all the time.
Qatar has been criticised for its location as a small state and also on its stadia and the kind of impact it will have. We saw a fantastic cultural experience in Brazil. How confident are you of the success of a World Cup in that environment?
In the rotation of the World Cup it was obvious that one day we should give the World Cup also to the Arab world. That was a decision taken on December 2, 2010 by an executive committee which was reduced to 22 members at that time.
It was a democratic decision taken by secret ballot and this was their decision. Now we have to make the best of it in order to show that also a small country can host the World Cup. But it is a challenge.
But one which brings criticism from the old powers who want more World Cups for themselves?
Especially with the World Cup. The other competitions are going to the smaller countries and one revolutionary decision we have taken in FIFA is to play the Under-17 Women’s World Cup in 2016 in the middle of the Arab world in Jordan.
When you look just now at the international geopolitical map, we are going to play a women’s competition where it will have a big impact on the development of women’s football but also on the development of women in the Islamic culture.
There has been a suggestion that some of the big clubs might ask their players to boycott the World Cup if there are still problems. Your impression?
I was a player though not at the level of the World Cup. Players want to go to the World Cup and they would not deliberately not go to the highlight of their career. Everybody wants to go the World Cup. A boycott of the players? No, I don’t believe that.
Do you weary, for example, of Sunday Times allegations that find nothing concrete against you but try to draw you into a web of some imagined corruption. How do deal with the English attitude to FIFA?
I call on all these people and colleagues – I am still a member of the international sports writers’ organisation AIPS as an honorary member – and ask for a little more respect and fair play and perhaps also the truth – although this is not so easy because it is not such good information. But just fair play and respect.
If you ask me how I deal with that, at the beginning it was very heavy and I was suffering. But now my situation has been cleared and cleaned by all means outside of FIFA and inside FIFA so therefore I am confident and I am going forward as an optimist. Optimists live better and perhaps they live longer.
We are talking to a predominantly English audience – although there is a strong international flavour. How did you feel about Greg Dyke’s outburst in Sao Paolo. Did that damage English football and reduce the prospect of them having influence in the future of the game?
No, definitely not. I know Greg Dyke. He’s a man of communication. He’s a man who is really in all the media. He knows it works. And if he has an outburst once, then so what? I still respect him because I think he’s a good guy and when we will meet together, I don’t know, but he will not say the same thing now. I’m sure.
I think a lot of us were surprised that he then went on to exclude an English bid for the World Cup while you were president. What do you make of that?
Listen. We could make a philosophy about the declarations of people. They are not happy in a situation . . . In football, this game that you start to play at the youngest possible level, you learn discipline, respect and fair play.
You learn to win but also to lose. So, therefore, I appeal to all those to go back to the essence of football, and then you learn to lose. I have lost a lot of times but, if you lose, then you stay there and you try to be better. And then, stay fair, that’s all.
Fair play was invented by England, Great Britain – the beautiful game and fair play. So let’s celebrate fair play.
So you would encourage England to continue to bid for World Cups?
There would be no impediment, in-built impediment to England achieving that?
No. It’s not important who is the president of FIFA. If England wants to have again a competition then they should bid – whoever is the president of Fifa. And they should listen a bit about what is called fair play.
Back with football: the World Cup saw some outstanding individual performances. Who do you regard now as not just the great teams and players in the world but those who will set the trends and standards?
I’m sure the specialists in football will say that we should maintain what has been done in the first round of the World Cup in Brazil. It means to go forward in the game, to go for goal. And this is the objective of our game. This will also give, let’s say, the idea of better respect.
You know that there has been less foul play in Brazil than in the other World Cups? Less foul play, it means the better behaviour of the players against the referees or the decisions of the referees. This is very important.
Also, it was at the high rhythm played and there have been fewer injuries. That means players are better prepared, but better prepared mentally to not commit foul play.
After Russia and Qatar, where will the World Cup go after that?
Uruguay-Argentina together . . . perhaps there’s a big commercial opportunity arising now in the United States because of the tremendous television audiences and the way the World Cup has encouraged its domestic game. We did well with football when it first went to the United States but the opportunities are bigger now.
If you look at the rotation of the World Cup then it should go back to Africa or go to the Americas. As we have just been in South America, I think North America has a better chance than South America.
As for Uruguay-Argentina? You were against co-hosting but it worked well in South Korea and Japan, didn’t it?
This was a decision taken by FIFA’S executive: if there is one single organiser, it’s better. This was also the decision for 2018 when the co-host bids were eliminated.
Looking forward after goalline technology, what’s the next reform?
The next step, I will propose to the international board, is to try to bring this so-called call that the coaches or the team managers, have the right in each half, twice or once, to challenge a refereeing decision, but only when the game is stopped.
Then, there must be a television monitor [so] the referee and the coach can go to look at, and then the referee may change his mind – as it is the case in tennis, for example.
Perhaps we will find a league, a professional or semi-professional league, to try to do it. It can only be done where there is television coverage of all the matches. Or in one FIFA competition. We can try in a youth competition like next year when the under-20s are in New Zealand.
In terms of good the game can do, what more can be done about I the issue of racism?
In the Congress of 2013 in Mauritius, a unanimous resolution was taken by the FIFA Congress against racism and discrimination [with] a catalogue of sanctions. This catalogue mentions the deduction of points, or elimination of a team when it is in a cup competition, or even the relegation of a team.
If one of the disciplinary committees of a league or a federation or a confederation or even FIFA ever has the courage to put such a sanction to deduct two points or three points then [racism] would stop.
Pecuniary sanctions or closing part of the space of spectators or an empty stadium, is not a solution.
So you would increase the scrutiny of the fans?
Yes or use the security personnel that are in the stadia, anyway, to do that. It’s not so easy but you have to take a risk. If you never take a risk, you will never have a chance.
You took a risk from changing from a journalist to a FIFA official. If you had one great thing you’d like to see happen for the improvement of football in the next four-and-a-half years, what would that be?
In football, in the field of play, we are never on the top but we are in a good level now to maintain this good level. But what I would like to see is football playing, in society, a more important social, cultural part in education and then to bring the good elements of football, discipline, fair play and respect into our society directly, into the families, at school level, in the business and – why not? – in politics. This, then, would be the end of my mission.