The scandal around the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) has started with Michel Platini’s personal offence and grew into a geopolitical standoff between Russia and the United States, with FIFA President Joseph Blatter being a bargaining chip. Blatter, who has been suspended from any football activities, spoke in an interview with TASS about the real causes of the conflict around the world’s largest sports organization, expressed regret for not quitting his post after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and told which country was originally supposed to host the 2022 World Cup and what prevented it.
- Mr. Blatter, when did you realize that FIFA was in a big trouble?
- The big crisis started on May 26-27 in Zurich when they arrested six members directly or indirectly involved in FIFA. It is funny to say, they had a journalist at the hotel at six o’clock in the morning. An American journalist. And then there was a big tsunami in FIFA. And everybody said who is responsible for that: “That’s the president, Blatter, he is responsible!” But I object. How can I be responsible morally for all the people? The accusations, which were made to these members, were not in activity with FIFA. It was in activity with a confederation. It was between South America and the Central, North America, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, where they have had made a big business for the next year Copa America and got some money by securitization of television contracts and then they started to distribute this money.
- Did you feel at once that you became the primary target of this attack?
- I became the primary target of the attack because since three years already, and specifically after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the UEFA did not want me as the president. It was a conducted attack on the FIFA president. But the other confederations, they were with me. Only UEFA tried to bring me away. They did not succeed. Even with this tsunami I was reelected as president. And who has been involved in this attacking situation towards the FIFA president? Politics. The European Union. Because this matter was then discussed in the European Union and if you go to the history, the European Union’s parliament has taken resolutions twice – first, Blatter shall not be elected. But that is political interference in sport. And after being elected Blatter should go out. Twice they did it. The European Union Parliament.
- But why is your figure at the center of this attack? Is this about money, influence or politics?
- Because at the beginning it was only a personal attack. It was Platini against me.
- So Platini does not like you and that is why he started it.
- Yeah, he started it, but then it became politics. And when it is in politics, it is not any longer Platini against me. It is then those, who have lost the World Cup. England against Russia. They lost the World Cup. And the USA lost the World Cup against Qatar. But you cannot destroy FIFA. FIFA is not the Swiss bank. FIFA is not a commercial company. So, what they have done together with the Swiss, they have created this attack towards FIFA and the president of FIFA. And I am sure that at the beginning when UEFA said they don’t want me, they didn’t know that finally it came out with such a political importance.
And you are from TASS and you know what are the problems between your country and the US. The FIFA World Cup or the FIFA president is a ball in the big political power game.
- Why does Platini dislike you? You probably had a more or less reasonable relationship with each other some years ago. And then suddenly what went wrong?
- You will have to ask him and we will know. Because he wanted to be FIFA president. But he had not the courage to go as the president. And now we are in such a situation in football. But FIFA is working well. FIFA is carrying out competitions and all development programs. FIFA is so well organized that even big opponents in Germany have to say that FIFA is better organized than the German football. Since I became president of FIFA, we have made FIFA a big commercial company. And this naturally provokes envy and jealousy.
- Do you think it can be seen as hostile takeover of FIFA and its commercial activities?
- Personally I don’t think so. Because even speaking about the American takeover of FIFA – football, the real football, where is the real money, where are the good players, the good competition – it’s Europe. They cannot take it. It’s not the way Americans would have business. I don’t think it is in their business thinking.
- What is the main problem of FIFA today?
- The problem in the management and in direction of business in FIFA is that the president is the only one after government, which is called the Executive Committee, who is elected by the Congress. All other members are elected by their Confederations. So, therefore, I am the boss of the government that has not been elected by me. And therefore it is very difficult to govern FIFA. We tried with reforms started in 2011 to change something. But then there was the veto, first, in UEFA, because they don’t want to go into integrity check of the members and all others were happy with that.
- Do you agree that FIFA is generally in crisis now?
- Yes, in crisis, but not the organization as such but the leadership is in crisis. The football has never been so good as now. It’s really good football everywhere. FIFA is not in crisis. The government of FIFA is in crisis. It must be in crisis if you kill the same day the president, the secretary general and the vice president of the biggest confederation.
- So you think the recent crisis is artificial?
- I think this crisis, and this is also the idea of my lawyers, has nothing to do with any criminal activity. Has nothing to do. So it was by perception. And the perception is given by whom? If you open the newspapers, if you open the television, every day it said – Blatter must go. The victim of all that finally is Platini.
- The irony is that both you and Platini are suspended from football activities for three months.
- It’s total nonsense. This is not justice. I put these people into the office, where they are now in the Ethics Committee and they don’t even have the courage to listen to the secretary general, Platini or me. I called them for the principles of the human rights: before to be suspended or excluded from somewhere you have the right to answer and they have denied this. They made a summary investigation and three days later I was suspended.
- What do you think is the reason behind this?
- I think it was the pressure of the media. It was the pressure to get rid of the FIFA president. Unfortunately, Platini was in the same boat. And they wanted to say – We, Ethics Committee, we are not at the service of the president, we are totally independent. This is wrong. They can be independent but they don’t need to be against me.
- What do you plan to do with your suspension?
- We are fighting against this suspension on two levels. We made an appeal to the Appeal Committee. And the Appeal Committee must give us a hearing. This is in the regulations. And then in the same time we gave an appeal also to the Ethics Committee, to the Tribunal, to reconsider the decision. So we are working on two different stages. (On October 26, the FIFA ethic committee refused to reconsider Platini’s suspension).
- When do you expect the decision?
- They will not hurry up with this decision
- But why were you suspended? Maybe you were planning important decisions that were not to somebody’s liking?
- Your question is a very clever question but I don’t think so, because I feel a little bit of the situation after 40 years. I don’t think they wanted me to stop to do something. You see, the reform committee, which is working now, they work on my agenda. I gave to this committee what they have to do.
- What reforms does FIFA management need?
- Balance between the regions. Now Europe has eight members and three vice presidents. Why Europe should have three vice presidents when Africa has more member associations? That’s not correct. The second thing is that we should give access to more women to the executive committee.
- What do you think of the FIFA reform committee’s proposals to limit the president’s maximum tenure to 12 years and introduce an age limit of 74 years?
- The age limit is a nonsense. The limit of mandate is good but not only for the president. It must be for everybody in the executive committee. But we have already twice voted at the congress against an age limit. It’s a discrimination of a human being. So you see they only want to touch the presidency of FIFA and not something else.
These proposals will be presented at the Executive Committee on December 2-3 and then will go to the agenda of the congress. Perhaps you were right to say that they wanted to suspend me so that I am not coming in there.
- Could tell more about the contract with Platini, which caused your suspension?
- When he was chairman of the organizing committee for the France World Cup, he told me at the end of the Cup, “I would like to work for you.” And I said this is great because we all already worked with him. It was in 1998. And then he said that I am very expensive. I said okay. So he said, “I am worth one million a year.” I said I cannot pay this, it’s impossible. And he said, “Okay, then pay me later.” So we have made some contract, where he got some money, but not one million. He was working until he was elected in 2002 to FIFA Executive Committee and UEFA Executive Committee. He stopped his working contract because he was then an official of FIFA. He never touched this item until 2010. In 2010 he approached the financial director of FIFA by saying, “Hey, listen, FIFA owes us money.” I was informed about that and I said, okay let him make an invoice of this what we owe him. And then he said we owe him two million Swiss francs. And then I analyzed that and I said okay. Yes, it’s a contract we have made. And it’s a principle I have in my life that if you owe money to somebody, then you pay it. Then we paid it. That’s all. And this money was not paid for any other reasons.
- And shortly after that your personal relationship with Platini began worsening.
- No, it was earlier. It was after he was elected UEFA president in 2007. And then one year we were the best friends. And one year later in the 2008 European Championship in Switzerland and Austria I was sidelined by UEFA. And since then I never went to UEFA competitions because it’s non-respect, not to me as a person, but to the office and the people I present.
- And he never explained what was the reason for this?
No. He could not. Because UEFA is affected by anti-FIFA virus for years before my presidency. They have an anti-FIFA virus.
- If you look back at your 40 years in football, would you have any regrets that you did something wrong during these years? And if you had a second chance to do something in a different way in the organization, what you would probably change?
- It’s not the time to have regrets because you cannot change anything. But I should have had courage after the World Cup 2014 in Brazil to say that now I go. But at that time five of the six confederations have asked me at the 2014 congress in San Paulo, “Please stay as president.”
Because if the UEFA will take the presidency, then we are lost. UEFA wanted to change the organization of FIFA. FIFA is actually a federation of 209 national associations. What UEFA wanted to do is to make FIFA a holding of only six confederations. The other confederations were afraid that UEFA will take over everything because they have the money and the players. And that’s why they said, “Blatter, stay.” And I said that I’ll stay.
I was bitterly affected by how I was abandoned by my own country. The Swiss media got very aggressive against me because I am from a very small canton, Valais, in the mountains and some of the people here think those coming from the mountains eat with their fingers. Primitive.
- Do you think it was a mistake to simultaneously hold the elections of both 2018 and 2022 World Cups in 2010?
In 2010 we had a discussion of the World Cup and then we went to a double decision. For the World Cups it was agreed that we go to Russia because it’s never been in Russia, eastern Europe, and for 2022 we go back to America. And so we will have the World Cup in the two biggest political powers. And everything was good until the moment when Sarkozy came in a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar, who is now the ruler of Qatar (Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani). And at a lunch afterwards with Mr. Platini he said it would be good to go to Qatar. And this has changed all pattern. There was an election by secret ballot. Four votes from Europe went away from the USA and so the result was fourteen to eight. If you put the four votes, it would have been twelve to ten. If the USA was given the World Cup, we would only speak about the wonderful World Cup 2018 in Russia and we would not speak about any problems at FIFA.
- Is there a possibility that Russia would lose the World Cup?
- No, you will never lose the World Cup. It has been anchored in FIFA. There will be no change in the World Cup.
- But there are a lot of publications in the western media, especially in British media, calling to strip Russia of the World Cup.
- Bad losers. In Great Britain they have made this beautiful game, they have introduced fair play. But there was only one vote going for England. They were eliminated in the first round. Nobody wanted to have England.
- What do you think about the preparations for the World Cup in Russia?
- You are not good, you are best. And you are working hard and you have the support. And if something is wrong, you don’t go to a committee but to the boss.
One year ago I spoke with your Foreign Minister Lavrov on geopolitics and on the same day I spoke with Mr. Putin. Vladimir Vladimirovich is a good friend of Joseph Josephovich. You know what I like in Russia also is that in difficult situations I still have the full support of President Putin. This is good. And I support him in all discussions, in all situations.
- When did you visit Russia for the first time?
- My first time when I visited Russia was in 1973. There was the universiade in Moscow. And later on I came to the Olympics in 1980 and we were received in the Kremlin by Mr. Brezhnev. We had the impression that he was moving on roller-skates. And later on we had the youth competition in 1985 when Mr. Gorbachev came in and it was forbidden to drink alcohol before noon. I have very good memories of Russia. I started to learn Russian and I’m trying to get the right accent as I promised to speak Russian at the World Cup.
- Do you think it is good or bad for Russian football that Sports Minister Mutko took over the position of the head of the national football association?
- I think it’s not the best solution because there are other sports and he is the minister of all sports. But I don’t know what was rational behind. But anyway I have to say that Vitaly is well received in our executive committee by all the people. He’s a nice guy, open-minded.
- What do you think will happen at the congress in February next year?
If God is with me, I do hope that I’ll be back as president of FIFA. Then I could at least conduct this congress. This is my dream.
- What is the image of the best candidate for FIFA presidency?
- At least 140 national associations cannot exist without FIFA. And these people want somebody who goes on with the same idea that football is not only the Champions League. This is also very important for me, for my legacy that somebody’s coming in and trying to go on with the development of football. Personally, I think most of the candidates here would like to do that, with exception of Platini.
- What do you think of UEFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino’s plans to run for FIFA presidency.
- There are people in Europe, especially in the northern parts, who say that if they bring Infantino, that’s the end of Europe. Most of the national associations don’t like Infantino. But all I should like him for is because he’s coming from the village where I’m coming from.
- What will your main message to the new president of FIFA be?
- I’ll tell him: don’t forget that FIFA is the most valuable institution in the world. On one side, our game is best in discipline and respect. It’s a school of life for all its players. And secondly, it’s a game that gives you emotions. And today emotion is very important. Emotion and hope because in football you lose today and you can win tomorrow. It creates people with a positive thinking. Football is connecting people. It brings people together. It makes bridges. This is football and this we cannot abandon.
Joseph Blatter was interviewed by Oleg Koshelev, Artem Kuznetsov and Maxim Filimonov.