Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sepp Blatter Interview

Source: official Club Programme (no online content)25/02/06

How are the preparations for the World Cup going and have you got any spare tickets?

The preparations are perfectly on track and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) in Germany has done an excellent job. As for spare tickets, I would exclude that option. Requests for tickets are something like ten times higher than tickets available.

When was the last time you attended a lower division or non-league game?

I often attend lower league games in my home Canton of Valais when I am visiting friends and family. It is important to keep in touch with the grassroots because our sport, more than many other, lives from its roots. And those are most definitely not only the top leagues.

When you first heard a group opposed to Glazer's takeover of Manchester United were forming their own team what were your first impressions?

I understand the emotions, because our sport is ABOUT emotions to a large extent. At the same time, we must look ahead and accept reality as such. For any dedicated fan to join a new club and help form a new team is certainly laudable because it stands for what association football, what club football is all about: dedication to belong to a group of like-minded people who share a goal. Therefore, I see no reason not to applaud such an initiative in principle.

What is your view on the best way for a football club to be structured and run?

I was always opposed to clubs going public and being quoted on the Stock Exchange because the pressures of the stock market where profits are the key criterion usually add pressure to the club and its management. Undue and unnecessary pressure, in my opinion. There are many models of club ownership or organization, and I personally find that a strong fan-base is key, whatever the organizational structure of the club may be. Without the fans, there is no future. As simple as that.

Many supporters of FC United felt disillusioned with the rising commercialism in the game at the top level, with games being moved to different kick-off times and allocated seating creating a poor atmosphere. Do you feel that traditional match-going supporters are being alienated by the top clubs?

I have always made it clear that too much football on television is certainly not the way I would want to go. The commercial aspects, especially in the UK, have dominated football for too long in my opinion. And I am rather certain that many a club manager or chairman are unhappy with the status quo and the fact that games are often set to start at a time when fans cannot make it, especially for away games. How can a fan attend an away game in Portsmouth, say, when it starts at 6pm on a Sunday and he would have to go back to the North the same evening? And why is it good for football if, in a given week, there are games virtually every single evening of the week? Between Cup games, Carling Cup, Premier League, Champions League there is hardly any time left for anything else. Too much football is not conducive to the game. These are issues that need to be tackled and must be resolved or else I do fear for the fan base to become constantly smaller.

If the current trend of 'Unit Owners' (i.e. Owners who have no previous emotional attatchment to the club) purchasing football clubs continues, how do you think football and eventually the clubs themselves will be affected?

I believe we must wait and see how things develop. This is a rather new phenomenon in Europe, whereas it is pretty standard in the US, for example, and in some Asian countries. I would not want to make a swiping and conclusive statement at a time when this type of development is still rather new. But needless to say that we are observing things very closely and carefully.

If there was one thing you could change about football on global scale what would it be and why?

Let me not answer this as a hypothetical question. There is indeed one thing, above all that is of maximum concern to me, and that is the lack of solidarity with countries, clubs and regions that are less privileged than the big European counterparts. The African Nations Cup has demonstrated with some clarity how football has advanced in Africa over the last few years. Yet, what I cannot see is respect for the players from that continent and solidarity with their plight.

And in the same vein, I shall try my utmost and dedicate time and energy to it so that the curse of racism disappears from our sport. It is debasing, it is disgusting and it is a vile mental state that is displayed in far too many matches around Europe. We must and shall try our best to put an end to this sickening curse.

If there was one thing you could change in the English game, again, what and why?

The foremost thing I would want to have changed is to reduce the number of Premiership clubs. This would allow for less games, for more regeneration time for players between games and for less injuries and more excitement, and also more time for fans to recuperate.

What is the best thing about English football?

Its quality, its excitement and its fanbase which is unique around the world.

FC United have a reputation for singing throughout the game and have many different songs. What is the funniest song you have heard at a football match?

I think I'll have to pass on this one. Next thing I would be branded as a staunch fan of this or that club (smiles).

Is there anything that FIFA can do to help supporters have more of a say in how their football clubs are run?

Quite frankly, no. Also, FIFA would not want to be involved in matters of a national or local nature that is so very different from one country to the other. Each society, every culture has its very specific qualities and all are different. That is why an approach in Spain will often not work in Germany or France. And because there are so many differences, our international tournaments are so exciting and reflect millions of different approaches. I welcome that.

Should there be a fit and proper person test for anyone wishing to take over a football club?

Unreservedly and absolutely yes. And that, over and above the safeguards which already exist - in the UK, it is the Financial Services Commission which scrutinizes such matters. In other countries or at European level there are similar entities, such as the UEFA licensing system. And of course FIFA has its own Task Force which shall, over time, establish relevant guidelines for such instances and beyond.