Over 20 journalists from across the United Kingdom gathered at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester for a round table event with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter on Wednesday 11 March 2009. The lively one hour discussion focused on a number of topics, including the Premier League, bidding for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, the protection of minors and 6+5.
Blatter opened the meeting by thanking the journalists for their interest. He also revealed that he was in the city, not only to present Manchester United with the FIFA Club World Cup Champions Badge after their success at the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2008, but also in response to an invitation from Sir Bobby Charlton. The FIFA President and the former England FIFA World Cup winner have a long history; they were opponents at the Blue Stars tournament in 1955 and will meet once more again when the Red Devils take on Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League.
On the English Premier League
I like England and I like English football; it has a great tradition and it is reiterated entertaining. It is the motherland of football. The Premier League is the best organised and marketed league in the world, but there is a situation now that the league is not typically English, especially when you look at the top clubs. In the past, clubs had a local, regional and national identity, but now that has gone. There seems to be a lack of balance. The richer clubs are taking all the players, while the others are battling just to survive. This situation is not exclusive to England, it's happening in Italy, Spain - even Switzerland, but in England it is much more dramatic. So, we have a problem of that there is a high concentration of the best players in the world playing in the Premier League.
On England's bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
I must be neutral concerning the bids for 2018 and 2022. However I can say that England is a very good contender for 2018, especially as it is the motherland of football. However, England are one of 11 contenders and I am sure they will produce a very strong bid. It's great to have the hosting of the FIFA World Cup so keenly contested in a time of a global recession. All 11 bids have the support of their respective governments, which is good, especially at this time. The Ethics Committee will be involved in the process and, at present, we are working on the composition of the different inspection groups. It will be a fair and transparent process.
On 6+5 and the naturalisation of players
We are pleased that independent legal experts believe that 6+5 is compatible with European law, but this is only an opinion - we are not yet through. The view of the football family is that we must protect the nationality of the national teams and at the last FIFA Congress there was a big concern about naturalised players. Recently I was with President Lula of Brazil. He said to me: "Please do something to stop the exodus of Brazilian players to Europe" - and that's why I am delighted that the transfer of players under the age of 18 will be abolished. We also hope that in order to become a national, you must have spent five years in a particular country after the age of 18. This may be a conservative approach, but I believe it is a necessary one.
On the recent terrorist attacks on cricketers in Pakistan
So far our game has not been the target of any terrorist organisation. What happened recently in Pakistan was a political statement. It would be wrong of us to stop fans travelling around South Africa - it is part of the attractiveness of the FIFA World Cup and it's a sign of the universality of football. But we will be careful in terms of the security of the event. We witnessed the high level of security at the Olympics - and this will be maintained in South Africa, both during the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup. I hope this high security level will be one of South Africa's legacies to future FIFA World Cups.
On goal-line technology
Goal-line technology was approved for testing by IFAB four years ago and we trialled two systems; the chip in the ball and Hawkeye, which is used in other sports. We tried the chip in the ball during the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup - and it was a complicated system. It worked, but not 100 per cent of the time. Plus, there are millions of balls used over the world and it would be very difficult to integrate this technology into all of them. Apparently there is a new system which is easier to understand and control, which we may examine in the future. The Hawkeye system proved to be inconclusive and was not instantaneous. IFAB believes that football is a game for human beings and, as such, we should improve the standard of refereeing - and not turn to technology. So, we will be trialling four assistant referees in a domestic league.
On elbowing and tackling from behind
We have a co-ordinated disciplinary code which is valid for all national associations - and putting that into practise is the responsibility of our national associations. However, I believe that elbowing and tackling from behind is very dangerous and should have strict sanctions imposed. Players nowadays are jumping with their elbows out in order to gain greater height and discourage opponents, but it is dangerous.
On David Beckham planning to buy an MLS franchise
I think a footballer investing in a football club is a good idea. But we need people to invest in football - and I welcome them. Football is one of the biggest business in the world and the people investing in it should be moral and ethical. The MLS is struggling and has not found its true position in American sport. There are more people playing football in the country than any other sport, so it deserves to have a higher profile. I think part of the reason for that is that the clubs do not own their own stadiums - and the rest have to use stadiums usually reserved for American Football, so they can only be used between March and October, which isn't a good time for football.