FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter appeared on Al Jazeera Children’s Channel television programme Hayaat Attahrir on Tuesday, answering questions posed by the show’s budding young journalists from the Home of FIFA.
“In souls nobly born, valour does not depend upon age,” wrote Pierre Corneille in Le Cid, and those words could almost have been penned for the fledgling journalists of the television programme Hayaat Attahrir (‘News team’ in Arabic) familiar to viewers of the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. Aged between 14 and 15, the show’s team of seven reporters broadcast their own prompt and polished 16-minute news bulletin every week.
This week, the news team decided to produce a special edition dedicated to the upcoming FIFA World Cup™, and for that they travelled to Zurich and the headquarters of world football to record their programme.
A number of items were prepared in advance, including an introductory piece on the tournament, a historical segment, a report on the role of football in bringing nations together, a look at the economic side of the competition and a presentation of the ball to be used this summer.
The icing on the cake was a live interview with President Blatter during the broadcast itself, in which the seven young journalists, all from different Arabic-speaking countries [Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia], asked wide-ranging questions on the global showpiece with obvious enthusiasm. “Nervous?” asked President Blatter before the start of the interview, and the roar of laughter that erupted among his questioners instantly put them at ease and helped everyone get straight down to the matter at hand.
“South Africa 2010 is a very important event and not just in sporting terms,” began the FIFA President as he fielded a question on the tournament’s reach. “Culturally and in terms of sports politics, it’s a major occasion: it’s the first time since the creation of the World Cup in 1930 that it will be held on the African continent. It’s an honour and a responsibility for Africa, but only fitting. It is no less than Africa deserves for having given football so much.”
“And what does FIFA do in terms of developing football?” asked one of the journalists. President Blatter recalled that development was his very first role at FIFA upon joining in 1974 and noted that “it’s a long-term task. At FIFA, we work hard on that. For example, to complement the 2010 World Cup, we launched the ‘Win in Africa with Africa’ project, which has made it possible for each African country to have a football pitch that meets international standards. I could also mention the Football for Hope Centres that we have started to build, as well as our support for the '1GOAL: Education for All' campaign which aims to enable children to have the right to an education, especially in Africa.”
A number of other subjects were also addressed, including the protection of minors, the fight against child labour, the economic ramifications of the FIFA World Cup and more light-hearted themes such as the FIFA President’s dreams and his childhood. “My father didn’t want me to become a professional footballer because he thought I wouldn’t earn a proper living,” he said. “Later on I joined FIFA because I love this game and in particular its values.”
President Blatter ended by underlining that “Football is played by 260 million people across the globe. Its economic importance is great and its political weight is significant, but the true value of the world’s leading sport is human: you learn to win as well as lose. It’s a means of education and discipline – it’s a school of life. Football is for everyone without regards to their race, colour, gender, size or weight. It’s the universal sport par excellence. Pass on the message.” Judging by the twinkle in the eyes of his seven young interviewers and the earnest smiles all round, that is a message they will no doubt spread with enthusiasm.