In a lengthy interview with FIFA.com, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter took stock of 2010 and discussed the objectives for the year ahead and beyond. In this the first instalment of a two-part interview, he discussed the success and the impact of South Africa 2010, the performances of African teams at the competition, the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup™ finals and the social role of football.
FIFA.com: What kind of year has 2010 been?
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter: 2010 has been a year of “fulfilment”, a historic year, one in which we’ve broken new ground. First of all, we’ve had the World Cup in Africa, which is an extraordinary achievement in itself. It’s had a phenomenal impact around the world, and the economic impact of the event can never be underestimated.
Back in 2004, when the competition was awarded to South Africa, the country was a young republic that had been in existence for ten years and was looking to find its place in the modern world. Since then, both the rest of the world and South Africa itself have come to realise just how important a country it is.
South Africa has risen to the challenge, attracting investors along the way. Its GDP per capita has increased considerably, the Rand has grown stronger despite the crisis, the country is part of the G20 and IBSA (a trilateral, developmental initiative between India, Brazil and South Africa), and it has also been made a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council.
For our part, we will be continuing with our social programmes through Football For Hope, which focuses in particular on education and health in South Africa and across the continent.
How do you think the year has gone for Africa in footballing terms?
To be honest, I was expecting to see more African teams in the second round of the World Cup, with one of them going on the semi-finals. Ghana just missed out by the narrowest of margins, though, and there was huge disappointment. This month, however, we’ve seen TP Mazembe Englebert of Lubumbashi (Congo DR) go all the way to the final of another competition, the FIFA Club World Cup, which is a first for an African team.
I’ve always said that there are no more little teams at international level because standards have levelled off at the top, whereas the gap has grown at club level.
That’s why Mazembe’s sudden success has been such a surprise. They knocked out the CONCACAF champions, Pachuca of Mexico, and then the South American champions, Internacional of Porto Alegre, Brazil. And they were emphatic wins too. It was no surprise to see them come unstuck against Inter Milan, although the scoreline was a bit harsh on them. I think that tells you they were just happy to get there and that perhaps they had a little less “fire” in them.
The venues for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup finals were revealed a few weeks ago. What is your feeling about the announcements?
We have made historic decisions in terms of sport and geopolitics. We’ve sent the World Cup to new territories. The 2018 World Cup will go to eastern Europe and the vast country that is Russia, and the 2022 event will go to Qatar, in the Arab world. The World Cup will discover new cultures in new regions, and that’s something I’m delighted about.
Can you explain the decisions in more detail?
You need to follow the development of football and FIFA to understand these decisions. It’s not something that started yesterday either. My predecessor Joao Havelange said that football had to become a universal sport. There was a need to promote football and look for sponsors because we didn’t have a cent back then.
When I jumped into this project in November 1974 I did so with my feet tied together, and I could see straightaway that there was more to football than just kicking a ball. When I became the FIFA President, the decision was made to go into Asia. And then I said we had to go to Africa, which is what we did. It’s only natural, then, that we should keep on moving into new regions.
Can you understand the disappointment of the other candidates?
Yes, but maybe some people have forgotten that in football you have to learn to lose as well as to win. It was a competition. Some people won, some people lost. That’s normal.
What about the criticism in the media?
The sporting media don’t always appreciate the social or cultural importance of awarding the World Cup finals to a country. They just think about penalties, corners, refereeing and money. But, as I’ve already said, this decision wasn’t about making money.
You’ve just touched on the next question. Can you explain your view of the social role of football?
The socio-cultural impact of the game on the future of our society is a subject that is close to my heart. That will be my message when I go to the Confederations’ Congresses, which begins in Asia, in Doha, on 7 January.
Football has spread to all parts of the world now and we need to ensure the expansion and development of the Football For Hope movement. “Hope” is wonderful, but you also have to make a real impact. That means you have to safeguard these projects and follow them up in detail and to do that involves getting support from the respective ministries of education and health.
The FIFA mission is to “Develop the game, touch the world, build a better future”. What still needs to be done?
We have “developed the game” and will continue to do so. That never ends. We have “touched the world” because we’ve gone everywhere or nearly everywhere. And as for “building a better future”, in other words creating a better world, well, we’re still working on that.
What message do you have for the new year?
Football is more than a game, but it still remains a game. We need to make the most of its positive values, and, more than anything else, make the most of life. That’s my message for fans around the world this new year.