FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has given an in-depth interview to the Aargauer Zeitung newspaper regarding his mission, issues in Switzerland, his faith and his recent comments. You can read it all here on FIFA.com.
Aargauer Zeitung: Mr Blatter, you have said that you would like to set a few things straight about you as a person by the end of your term of office. Please go ahead!
Joseph S. Blatter: It’s not just about me. I have been mandated by the FIFA Congress to enhance FIFA’s rather tarnished image. It is also a priority for me to challenge the claims that I received any money. That is totally and utterly false and has already been disproved in court.
In Switzerland, do you receive too little recognition for your achievements?
A prophet is without honour in his own country – except perhaps in the Valais (laughs). Media reports often don’t reflect reality; journalists choose words that sometimes don’t correspond to the facts. In public, however, I get completely different reactions: in Switzerland I can travel alone by train from Zurich to Visp. And if people speak to me, they only have good things to say.
Is the Swiss media more critical than in other countries?
No. You have to live with criticism if you preside over a global organisation.
Does the criticism hurt you?
(He considers.) At the beginning it did. By now I have developed a thick skin and have more experience. I am happy to receive healthy criticism. But it’s annoying when people constantly rake up old untruths. Above all, it’s not me who suffers from the criticism, but my family.
You will be in office for another four years and don’t need to be re-elected. Therefore you don't have to be careful any more – and have the chance to do something really big.
The target for the last four years is for football to play a more important role in society. And that football is recognised as a school of life. In this connection, in 2009 we launched a wonderful programme, Football for Health. Together with governments across the world, we are working to improve health awareness in society through football.
You want to anchor football more firmly in society through education and health?
Yes. In the areas of health and education, we are working directly with the relevant ministries of various countries across the world. We have a written cooperation agreement with them. It’s not just about Football for Hope. There’s a whole lot more.
Do you mainly carry out these programmes in developing countries?
Above all in countries in which football is practically the only team sport. And in countries that need it. Less so in Europe, UEFA has its own programmes. In Africa, South America and the Caribbean, however, we make a real difference. In the crazy world in which we live, football is very important.
How do you mean?
For the last five years, there has always been a football league championship in Iraq. Football brings people together and is important for society.
The big issues are hooligans and corruption though.
As an institution, football has 300 million members, the same as the population of the USA. With so many people involved, there will always be people who break the rules, that is something you cannot prevent. You cannot speak about a corrupt organisation based on the actions of individuals. We do everything possible to fight against it. For example, we work together with Transparency International. The Ethics Committee combats and decides on any persons who are uncovered. Furthermore, we have brought in the Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth to advise us on the prevention of corruption. Hooliganism is a question of education and the organisation of security.
There have been several incidents with firecrackers in Switzerland.
I cannot understand this at all. Firecrackers do not belong on the football pitch, full stop. FIFA lays down security measures that associations must comply with. If it doesn’t work in Switzerland, I have to assume that the associations and the clubs cannot muster the will to apply them. But FIFA is not the police.
But are more police needed?
Yes, clubs must work more closely with the police. At the old Hardturm stadium, there were turnstiles where all visitors were checked – even I as FIFA President was checked, which is how it should be done.
Firecrackers and fireworks are virtually only seen in Switzerland these days.
That is bad for the image of Swiss football fans. Other countries will think that the fans have fun lighting these devices and take them to away games abroad! I have been invited to Berne on 6 December. I was asked if I would speak in front of a hundred members of parliament. I am happy to do so. However, I don’t want to just speak but would like to make myself available for questions and open dialogue.
What would the consequences be if you were taxed at the normal rate?
As an association, we do not make any profit but only surpluses that are channelled into our reserves. Reserves are not taxed in any business. FIFA directly reinvests three quarters of our money into football development. Since 2003 we have presented our figures transparently like a listed company – unlike most other associations.
Are FIFA and other international federations in Switzerland because of the tax advantages?
No. First of all, Switzerland is a paradise, a safe country. Furthermore, there is qualified staff here. Even in small associations, it is important to have employees who are bi- or trilingual. FIFA has 360 employees from 42 countries in Zurich – and they virtually all pay taxes here.
So sports federations don't question the choice of Switzerland as their seat?
No. But action is needed. That’s why all the sports federations are developing a strategy to explain to Swiss people with one voice what we do here – and that we do something for the general public: we create jobs and promote tourism. The city of Lausanne, thanks also to the Olympic Museum, has very many sports tourists.
So you are aiming to improve the image of sports federations both in public and in politics?
Yes, in politics across the whole of Switzerland. We have no problems with Canton Zurich.
On Wednesday, your comments about racism caused outrage. Racism has no place in football, but such things can happen “in the heat of the moment.” The England player Rio Ferdinand reacted with indignation.
I was completely misunderstood. I have been passionately campaigning against racism and any kind of discrimination for years. FIFA is strongly committed in this regard. We have launched several anti-racism campaigns, “Say No To Racism”, etc. I answered Rio Ferdinand on Twitter and made my position clear and unambiguous. In any case, I apologise to everyone who was offended by my comments and I remain fully committed to fighting against these evils.
Mr Blatter, you are interested in politics, in your younger days you supported your brother’s election campaign, who was a councillor in Siders. Whom did you vote for on 23 October?
The choice was not very big in the Valais...
Our guess is the FDP…
That’s right, I voted FDP. Although the FDP is not so strongly represented in the Upper Valais. They shouldn’t call themselves freisinnig [free-thinking], but just freie [free] democrats. My father and one of my brothers were in the FDP, the other brother was CVP. I personally have never been involved in party politics.
You meet presidents all over the world. What do you think of our Federal Council by comparison?
I think our president is wonderful.
President of the Federal Council Micheline Calmy-Rey?
Ms Calmy Rey delivered a very good opening address at the FIFA Congress in June. I regard her very highly, just as I do her predecessor. Ms Leuthard came to the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa and organised a reception at the Swiss embassy in Pretoria in honour of the FIFA President. I received a visit from another football enthusiast, Urs Wyss, and his lovely wife.
State Councillor Pascale Bruderer Wyss?
Precisely. I wrote her a letter of congratulations on her election and on the birth of her daughter Juliana.
Switzerland is internationally exposed with regard to taxation and fiscal matters. Do you agree with this?
The Swiss sometimes create problems which other countries do not even notice. I visit a great many countries and Switzerland has an excellent image on all continents.
You have high praise for Doris Leuthard. There are voices in parliament calling for Leuthard to represent Switzerland as Foreign Minister. Particularly in these hard times.
Do I detect a loaded question? (He laughs.)
No, not at all.
Doris Leuthard is a very elegant and charming personality who does an outstanding job of representing Switzerland. However, we will have to wait on the elections for the Federal Council.
Is the SVP entitled to a second seat?
I would prefer not to comment on that.
Should Switzerland organise a major sporting event again?
Switzerland has already had EURO 2008.
That’s true. But now Davos and St. Moritz want to host the Olympic Winter Games in Switzerland. Do you think the Games are a realistic project for Switzerland?
Switzerland is certainly capable of staging the Winter Olympics. But they would have to be completely re-sized. The Games have taken on huge dimensions, as can be seen from the Vancouver, Sochi and Munich events. Take Vancouver for instance. If we wanted to host the Games in the Upper Valais in a similar way to how they did it in Vancouver, we would have to clear away all of the villages between Fiesch and Oberwald.
Will the IOC agree to re-sizing the Games?
So the bid is unrealistic?
I don’t want to put a spanner in the works for the organisers in Grisons, but we cannot deny the huge dimensions of the Olympic Games. On the contrary, there are new candidates who want to make the Games even bigger. What Munich is offering is simply not feasible for Switzerland. We are simply too small. Sion 2006 was our last chance. It would have been a great event.
You have been at FIFA for 37 years now.
Yes, I decided to leave the watch industry in November 1974, having been told many times I was no watchmaker. I started working at FIFA in February 1975, when it had only 11 employees. I was added as number 12, which continues to be my number even today. In those days, number 12 was a substitute. I began as a Development Officer, a role I still perform today. Development means learning and teaching. Even people who teach must continue to learn. It never ends. In those 37 years, football took a great leap forward.
Television played a key role in that.
The marrying of football and television engendered the development of both football and television. Football is the best spectacle for television as you only need cameras, nothing else. Football is the classic Greek tragedy: unity of time, place and action. You never know how a match will end. Football is drama. A penalty shoot-out may even be a personal tragedy. In this way, football has become a huge industry.
Let’s go back to the start. Mr Blatter, now that you won’t run for president again, you have the chance to become a historical figure.
Who knows what the future holds?
You wanted to step down in 2015. Are you implying that you are going to continue?
I don’t even know if we will still be around then, given that someone has just predicted that the world is going to end at the end of November. Seriously, I am not going back on my announcement, but I do not know what 2015 holds. I have two goals. The first of these is to make the game more than just a game, but a valuable part of society. And the second is to recast the now tarnished image of FIFA and its President, which is my duty. My father, whom I still talk to every so often, also used to tell me that.
Does he give you good advice?
Yes, especially when people are saying I should step down.
What does he say?
We visited the family grave in Visp on 1 November and my father said to me, “Don’t lose your grip. Do not lose heart. Keep going.” And so, I keep going. My engine is still running. My own faith also plays a part in this.
Faith in God. I was brought up a Catholic, so of course the Catholic Church has an influence on me. I need to believe that what I am doing is the right thing. How does success come about? You must have knowledge, and you must turn it into ability. Then, experience is required, as well as the belief in what you are doing. Lastly, you need a little bit of luck. I combine this little bit of luck with my faith, not just in myself, but in God.
Do you get strength from God?
From time to time he tells me “You have to fix that on your own. I cannot help you with that. I truly mean that.” We have a student reunion in an abbey in St. Maurice every year which the Abbot of St. Maurice also attends.
Is there a very religious side to you?
Does that have anything to do with Valais?
It has to do with my upbringing. There is nothing mystical about it, my faith is very strong. Very real.
Does it give you the strength to endure all the trouble and criticism?
Yes. Of course, I get great strength too from driving to Valais and seeing my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter. But I also have to summon up strength from within myself.
Are you at peace with yourself?
Very much so. I may not always be satisfied with myself, but I am very at peace. I believe in what I do. That is why I never have to force myself to be in the office at 7am. Otherwise, I would have to seriously question myself. And when I am not in Valais on a Sunday afternoon, I am here in my “living room”, my office.
How do you manage that at 75?
It has to do with being born prematurely. I was born at seven months and in those days, premature babies were not put in an incubator, but a basket. I only weighed 1.5 kilos. (He shows just how small he was with his hands) Just imagine. My mother told me all about it. She stopped talking to her mother-in-law because she used to call me “an incomplete child”. I didn’t even have fingernails.
So, your fight for survival started at birth?
It fired something up in my engine. I hope it keeps going.