FIFA President Joseph S.Blatter. Credit: Getty Images
A mere national president doesn’t hold a candle to President of World Football Sepp Blatter. Football is, after all, a game played on lawns and streets across the world – not to mention state-of-the-art pitches, with players earning multi-million dollar incomes.
And Blatter himself is the most powerful leader FIFA, the game's global governing body, has ever had. But is football in a healthy state when the game gets more attention for transfer fees than for beautiful goals — or when FIFA has had to admit that the Middle East can’t hold a World Cup in the summer?
Yes, and it’s even a solution to conflicts mere politicians are unable to solve, Blatter tells Metro in an exclusive interview.
Metro: Do you think the compromise of holding Qatar's World Cup during the winter is a good one?
Blatter: The FIFA Executive Committee decided in October last year to launch a consultation process. Qatar have expressed their openness to organize the tournament in June or July, but it became clear that playing in the summer heat was not a responsible thing, despite the fact that Qatar can develop the best cooling technology.
Did you anticipate the problems that awarding the World Cup to a country that's extremely hot in the summer would cause?
It was time for this region to stage a World Cup. It offers a great opportunity for the region to discover football’s power as a platform for positive social change.
Football players' salaries have skyrocketed to the point where dozens are multimillionaires. As a result, boys grow up wanting to become football stars instead of going to school. Isn't this a frightening development?
Firstly, it’s important to point out that it is not within FIFA’s competence to intervene in the regulation of players’ salaries. Football players’ salaries are determined by employment contracts between football clubs and the players themselves.
Secondly, it’s worth highlighting that education is at the core of many of FIFA’s development programs. FIFA invests heavily in grassroots and development projects throughout the world. Academies are a key part of this, where youth players – many of whom would otherwise not have had an opportunity to gain an education – can train together while attending school or apprenticeship courses. You mention boys, and in this context we should also talk about girls.
Transfer fees are surging, too, with a player like Gareth Bale commanding record fees. Do you see a risk in fans cynically viewing football as big business and not sport?
On the whole, the international transfer market is actually quite stable and median numbers are consistent. Data produced by FIFA TMS, our subsidiary that manages all international transfers, shows us that a small number of wealthier clubs dramatically skews the amount spent.
That said, we understand the perception can be different when there are few high-profile transfers. People are free to draw their own conclusions, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that football is still a beautiful game that brings joy to many people.
Sports can often achieve what politics can’t – just look at pingpong diplomacy. Wouldn’t it be worth a try to invite, say, the Iranian and the American teams to a friendly game?
This match has actually happened, not only as a friendly match, but at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. It was a highly competitive but fair contest, with Iran going on to win 2-1 and record their first ever victory in the World Cup finals.
But a more recent example of this has been in Cyprus, where the Cyprus Football Association and the Cyprus Turkish Football Association have come under one roof, once again demonstrating the power of football to bring people together after a long period of conflict.
Countries like Iran have ambitious football teams. But globally, women's football remains very much a sideshow to the men's game. What can FIFA do to promote it as a serious sport?
Women’s football is most definitely a serious sport. We saw the true global reach of the sport at the Women’s World Cup in Germany in 2011, with over 845,000 fans attending the 32 games while TV audience and social media records were smashed.
FIFA promotes career paths for women throughout the sport, not just on the pitch. At FIFA, we now have three executive committee members who are female. Our tournaments for women are flourishing as the game develops, but there is much that can be done by the global football community to harness its true potential.
Racism has long been a major problem in football. Are clubs and national teams doing enough to combat it?
It is not just racism; discrimination of any kind has no place in football. FIFA fully recognizes its responsibility to lead the way in abolishing all forms of discrimination. We have the FIFA Code of Conduct, which foresees zero tolerance of discrimination. We also created the FIFA Anti-Discrimination Task Force in March last year. We are imposing tougher sanctions and punishments. FIFA will continue to work closely with the entire football family and insist that individuals, clubs, associations and confederations do everything they can to stamp out discrimination.
How much is a football game worth to you – i.e. how much would you be willing to pay for a ticket?
As with any form of entertainment, the demand is based on fans deciding for themselves how much a game is worth to them. The same question could be asked about art, theater or music concerts.
What do you imagine football looking like in 2022?
There will still be 11 players on a team and one referee. The principles of football have been the same since 1886, and the basic rules haven’t changed. This is what makes the game so universally popular.
Will you stand for President of FIFA again?
If the member associations ask me I will not say no.