FIFA president explains change in his views and why other areas of society also need to look at the issue

Exactly a year ago, Sepp Blatter was fighting calls for him to resign. It was not the first time FIFA’s president had been under pressure to stand down and certainly not the first time he had talked himself into trouble.

But while some of his previous thoughts were dismissed as bizarre ramblings — such as suggesting women play in tighter shorts — his comments on racism sparked outrage.

Specifically, it was his idea that racism in football could be settled with a handshake and the timing could not have been worse with the Football Association investigating allegations John Terry and Luis Suarez had racially abused opponents.

A host of managers, players and politicians urged Blatter to go while Rio Ferdinand, whose brother Anton was the target of Terry’s abuse, accused the 76-year-old of “ignorance”.

Within 48 hours of the incendiary interview with CNN, Blatter apologised for his “unfortunate words”, which he “deeply regretted”.

A year on, Blatter has had a rethink on how to tackle racism.

“What you can do by a handshake is try and make peace,” he tells me. “You cannot eradicate racism by a handshake. To eradicate this devil is an educational problem. The problem is, if the school is not educating, if the family is not any longer educating, sport must educate. But sport cannot do everything.”

Suarez and Terry were both found guilty by the FA but while the Liverpool striker served an eight-game ban at the start of the year, the latter has only just completed his four-game penalty.

The FA delayed their hearing until the outcome of a court case at which the Chelsea captain was cleared. Blatter believes they should have acted faster, a point the governing body, with hindsight, now accept.

“The John Terry affair should have been handled much quicker,” he says. “Such matters should be dealt with as soon as possible, especially when players are concerned. Our sports’ authorities should deal with these matters directly. If, afterwards, the political authorities also intervene because they think it is a very important case, that is for them. But, to wait until the political authorities intervene and then take a decision on the sporting side, this is not the right procedure.”

Two more high-profile racism cases are in the spotlight this week. On Thursday, UEFA will assess allegations that Serbia fans racially abused England Under-21 players last month.

Also, referee Mark Clattenburg should discover whether he will be charged by the FA over claims he racially abused Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel. Clattenburg denies the allegations but the case has raised issues about the relationship between players and ¬officials.

While Blatter does not know the details of the allegations, unlike many in football, he does not rule out the idea of a referee racially abusing a player. “Nothing is impossible. That’s the first thing I have to say. Discrimination and racism in the world is terrible and it is affecting the world of sport.”

The malaise surrounding football is in stark contrast to the feel-good factor of the Olympics here in London.

In the wake of the summer Games, much was made of how football should adopt the Olympic ethos but the tribalism of the world’s biggest sport means it takes a huge leap of faith to expect rival football fans to sit side by side.

However, Blatter is willing to dream. He says: “Players and the public can learn from the Olympics because of the wonderful ambiance in the stadium. There is never any question of fans fighting because they have this specific Olympic spirit. But, when it comes to the day-to-day league competition, then the fans are in two zones. One is the visiting team, the other the home team. It would be nice to bring this Olympic spirit in all the stadia.”

As a member of the International Olympic Committee, Blatter was one of the people responsible in 2005 for awarding London the Games.

While he was delighted with the success of the event as a whole, he was particularly pleased with the way the football tournament was received.

The Swiss says: “I voted for London. It was so great to see how the Games went without problems. The response to the football was so high but I was surprised. I thought the British public was pampered by the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Scottish Cup. But to see the number of spectators at the Olympic men’s and women’s football was fascinating. When I speak about that I still feel the emotion of 2012.”

So with London having staged a wonderful Games, how long will it be before the World Cup returns to these shores. Will it be in our lifetimes?

Blatter (above, second picture) is rarely lost for words but, for a moment, seems to have lost his tongue. Then, pressing his palms together, he looks up at the ceiling as if in prayer and says: “One of the gods up there, the god of football perhaps, knows. I will ask Joseph Ratzinger. You know who Joseph Ratzinger is?”

As I indicate I know he is the Pope, Blatter continues: “I will ask him. Every morning he is speaking with the Lord, so he will tell me.”

The idea of England requiring a Papal edict to stage its first World Cup since 1966 has a ring to it and this is the sort of wisecrack you might expect from the eternal showman who runs world football. As a child, Blatter loved the pantomime.

As Fifa general secretary, he looked forward to taking part in the World Cup draw in front of a live worldwide television audience. Then, early in his career, he became president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders whose mission statement was that it regretted “women replacing suspenders with pantyhose”.

However, Blatter is soon making a more serious point: that failure to host the 2018 World Cup was not an act of god, more a reflection of England’s campaign. After Blatter’s executive had given the prize to Russia, the English group alleged some of his fellow committee members had lied about their voting intentions.

But Blatter says: “In our game, you have also to accept defeat. England has given us, not only this beautiful game of football, but also the term fair play. And fair play means accepting defeat.

“England should accept they got only two votes [one of them from the Englishman on the executive, Geoff Thompson]. If they had 11 [out of the 24] votes, they could be disappointed. They could say who did it? It was not one person, it was the general movement that did not want England. So who is responsible for the defeat?”

Many in this country feel he played a part in orchestrating England’s huge defeat, a feeling worsened by the fact the great and good of this country spent hours courting Blatter. There is ¬evidence of that courtship in the room where we are meeting in Fifa headquarters. One of the books on display is Courage: Eight Portraits by Gordon Brown with a personal handwritten message of good wishes to “dear Sepp” by the former Prime Minister.

Such courtship is normal for the man, who has led football since 1998, and he insists: “I’m not anti-English. I like England. I like the Premier League. When I was a student in London, I’d often go to Stamford Bridge and see Peter Osgood and Peter Bonetti playing.”

UEFA president Michel Platini is also accused of being against the English but it is wrong to assume two of the most powerful men in world football have the same train of thought.

Blatter is fully behind goal-line technology, Platini is a fierce opponent. And while the Frenchman voted for Qatar to stage the 2022 World Cup and then said it should be in the winter, Blatter refused to reveal who he backed (the assumption is he wanted the USA) but said the finals had to be in the summer.

Platini is widely tipped to succeed Blatter, whose term ends in 2015. “I will not stand again,” he says. “I have to finish. I have to put it into my mind that you cannot be eternal.”

But then Blatter adds tantalisingly: “There may be circumstances that I’m still there and nobody will take on Fifa. I don’t know.”

He does not specify what those circumstances might be. But it is hard to avoid the thought that, should he think that Platini as his successor would push for a winter World Cup, then Blatter may decide he is eternal after all.

BLATTER-BALLS – Sepp’s less than cerebral take on . . .

The beautiful game – ‘Come on, let’s get women to play in different and more feminine garb than the men. In tighter shorts, for example.’

Qatar’s homosexuality laws – ‘I would say they [gay fans going to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup] should refrain from sexual activities!’

Terry’s alleged affair -‘If this had happened in let’s say Latin countries then I think he [John Terry] would have been applauded.’

Cristiano Ronaldo ‘the slave’ – ‘There’s too much modern slavery in transferring or buying players and putting them somewhere.’


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