FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks with FIFA.com to reflect on a hugely popular and successful football tournament at the London 2012 Olympics
FIFA.com: You must be delighted with how men’s and women’s football has attracted such huge crowds to matches across the UK for the Olympics.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter: The number of fans watching football at London 2012 has broken so many records with a total of over 1.5 million for the men and 660,000 for the women. That means that football has accounted for a quarter of all London 2012 ticket sales. It has been wonderful to travel round the country and see a majority of the games attracting huge crowds.
Seeing big arenas such as Wembley and Old Trafford full for an Olympic competition has been brilliant for the game and the matches have been played with the right spirit: respect for your opponents, self-discipline in how the players have conducted themselves on the field but always competitive and determined to win.
British fans have always been amongst the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world. They have proved that during the Olympics, mixing with fans from all the many other nations. They have been good natured, respectful of each other and shared a common love of the game.
That has created a wonderful atmosphere at other grounds in Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle and Coventry and it has been a source of great joy and pride for me and my FIFA colleagues to witness such a successful tournament.
There were some who doubted the wisdom of wealthy footballers being part of the Olympic Games. And many feel that the age restriction in the men’s tournament detracts from the quality of the games. Have those doubts been banished forever?
I believe we have struck the right balance by giving a showcase to some of the most talented young players in the world and allowing a few over-age players to bring gravitas and maturity to the teams.
The players have proved in every match that they want to play in the Olympics and that trying to achieve a medal is very important to their list of ambitions. I think having an Under-23 age limit is the right thing to do. It gives younger talent the opportunity to take part in a major sporting competition. That experience is invaluable to their development.
In my opinion, this format works very well and will remain. I would like, however, to encourage all the national associations to realise the importance of the Olympics to young players and to do everything in their power to ensure the best players are released to play. That includes my own country, Switzerland.
For me it has been two things: the huge crowds and how the women’s game has become such a major attraction.
What is your view about the quality of the men’s and women’s football?
We have witnessed some incredible talent and many of the stars of the men’s tournament will have a major impact when the World Cup arrives in Brazil in 2014.
The quality of the football in both the men’s and women’s tournaments has been very high. Technically the women’s game has advanced so much and that is a tribute to the passion and ability of the coaching and development of the game worldwide.
Over 71,000 fans at Wembley to see the Brazil women’s team play Team GB and then over 80,000 for the USA v Japan Final. Fantastic! That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because supporters know they are going to see a quality game of football, played with enthusiasm and skill.
You have been at the Games from the start. What have been your personal highlights?
It is difficult to select one game or one player. For me it has been two things: the huge crowds and how the women’s game has become such a major attraction. It is no longer the poor relation. In many ways, the men’s game can learn a lot from the women in terms of fair play and attitude. And a majority of the matches have been full of drama and excitement.
It has been a great opportunity to meet old friends and to make new acquaintances and I was delighted to launch the joint project between FIFA and Lord Ouseley’s Kick It Out campaign. That will be another platform for FIFA and its partners to fight all forms of discrimination.
You have watched matches at all of the Olympics venues. Have you been impressed by the facilities in the UK?
Yes of course. I have previously been to many of the stadiums, such as Wembley, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and Old Trafford. They are wonderful places to play and watch football. The fans are passionate at all times and the Olympic spirit was infectious.
I had not been to Coventry’s stadium before and was very impressed. It was for the men’s double-header. The ground was almost full. The atmosphere was excellent.
And what is your view of London 2012? Has it been a well-organised Games?
It has clearly been a major success. It is a tribute to my old friend Lord Coe and his LOCOG colleagues for delivering such a wonderful spectacle. London is one of the greatest cities in the world and the venues have delivered high-quality facilities in some of the most historic locations.
It has been an almost unbeatable combination. And even the weather has behaved!