Q: Why do you think that football elections, especially in FIFA, have become so brutal? You’ve been through four presidential elections now…
A: I like this question… In life, if you refuse to take a risk, you’ll never get anywhere. But if you take a risk, you must also be prepared to lose as well…
My first big challenge was when I was still the general secretary of FIFA and it was coming to the end of the era of Havelange as president and a new president, Lennart Johansson (then president of UEFA, European football’s governing body), was proposed. I was of the opinion that if he became President, I could go on as the general secretary of FIFA.
But I was told that as soon as Havelange left, I was going to be kicked out of my post, as everyone that worked with the patriarch, as Havelange was called, would go with him. So, I had to take a real risk [to contest the presidency], because I was alone. I was kicked out of my job by the executive committee on Friday, 13th March 1998 in Zurich, because they said I was going to be a candidate for the presidency, even though I had not declared that I was. Later at the Palais Du Sport in Paris, alongside Michel Platini, I declared my candidature.
Platini was asked why he supported me, he said that I was a footballer. I took a real risk and I won, by a margin of 111-80 in the first ballot. And then began the fight for the 2002 election. The European group did everything to ensure that I would be kicked out as president, after my first four years. So, the election in 2002 was more difficult than the 1998 election, because in 1998, I came into it like an innocent. But at the 2002 election, I got even more votes than in 1998. And it was only then they said, “Okay, Blatter, you are in charge…”
Q: CAF president Issa Hayatou challenged you for the FIFA presidency in 2002, which you have admitted was a difficult fight. But you still have to sit on the same executive committee table with him, 10 years after that. What are your true feelings about Hayatou?
A: If you go back to the history of the FIFA elections in May 2002, 11 members of the executive committee, in conjunction with the FIFA general secretary, Michel Zen Ruffinen, deposited a criminal allegation against me, stating bribery and similar acts, which would have stopped me from travelling to South Korea for the election.
Fortunately, the court did not agree to their request and I was allowed to travel and return to face the allegations. Out of those 11, three of the people who signed that petition, including Hayatou, still sit with me on the executive committee. I have no problem with those three and I have no problem with Issa. When he lost the election, he accepted it in good faith and accepted to work with me. If you are a leader, you have to pardon people that offend you. Not that you forget, but you pardon… [He grins]
Q: Before the 2011 elections, you hinted that Lydia Nsekera, of Burundi, was a good candidate, so her eventual appointment [the first ever woman to sit on the FIFA executive] was no surprise. But she only has one year on the executive committee and many people, including the UEFA president, were against her appointment. Will she have her four years on the committee?
A: I will fight for that before the congress. I tell you, it will be easier to get the support of the congress for this, than of the executive committee… This means that she will stay on the executive committee. When we have put the first woman in the history of FIFA onto the executive committee, we must fight for her.
Q: Let’s look at the state of African football after the 2010 World Cup. We have had many conversations about the conditions and problems of the African game. No African team has become a world champion or even reached the finals of the World Cup. Do you think African football will ever get to the point when it will, finally, conquer the world? Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon have shown that they can do it…
A: I have been analysing African football for quite a while now, more than the football from other continents… The problems facing African football [at the World Cup] are a matter of how national teams are managed by the respective national associations. They must have a competent technical bench, as well as good medical and the right psychological teams.
At the senior level [African national associations] just do not prepare their teams properly. Look at how teams from other parts of the world prepare, the money spent and the effort that is applied in getting ready to compete. Some African national associations often hire new managers just months before a World Cup. This has to stop.
For the 2016 World Cup in Brazil, I hope they will not make the same mistakes in South Africa. But don’t forget, Ghana came so close to the semi-final in South Africa. Had they achieved that, we would be telling a different story now.
Q: TP Mazembe of DR Congo reached the FIFA Club World Cup final in 2010, which was a great achievement. But they are a club financed by one man – Moise Katumbi. They do not have commercial sources of revenue outside what he spends, personally, on the club. How can African clubs thrive, when they have such a shaky business model?
A: Money goes with success. But also remember that if the royal family in the UAE decide to withdraw their investment in Manchester City, what do you think will happen to the club? Or what would happen if the Qataris decide to pull their investment out of French football? It is the same situation. The unfortunate, and unfair, situation, is that there are not so many people that are prepared to invest in Africa.
Investments are a function of the market climate and it is prime quality that attracts money. But the example of Mazembe has shown that it is possible. Things are a lot better in Asia, for example, because the economic situation is stronger. In Africa, football is suffering, definitely and I have to say, and it hurts me to say this, that it is still seen as the poor continent. But this is not true. Look at all the talent that the continent has. There should be some investment coming in.
Now, we are going to Morocco for the FIFA World Clubs Cup and I think this will help to bring more attention to the club game in the continent.
Q: The situation for football in the Republic of Benin is dire at the moment. Anjorin Moucharafou, removed as the president of its federation in 2010, over $700,000 of missing sponsorship money, and jailed for six months, has been reinstated as its president. Mr Blatter, can you tell me why this was allowed by FIFA, that has promised transparency in governance? What is going to be done about this, honestly and seriously?
A: I am not aware of this case, as I am not aware of what is in the file… You have just brought this to my attention and I know that there is a matter… which has been dealt with by the relevant authorities in FIFA. You have brought this to my attention. Let me look into this and I will report back to you. I know that Moucharafou has been in jail and he’s back. That’s the only thing I know.
Q: Can you guarantee, right now, that you will not seek another term of office as FIFA president?
A: Ah… but the issue is whether I can reach 2015! I could go out and a car crashes into me and that’s the end. We are in the hands of God… But I have said this many times, I will not go beyond 2015. After that, we will see what will happen. In 2015, I will be 79 years old and I would have had exactly, if not more than, 40 years in FIFA. That is enough and a good record.
Q: So, in 2015, it is “Au revoir” to FIFA, for sure?
A: Not “Au revoir” but goodbye. Both words are not the same. [He smiles]