We are approaching the end of yet another year, one that has brought FIFA success and many unforgettable moments. It has, however, also raised a number of critical issues and new problems that will occupy football in both the medium and long term.
When we look back on the positive stories of 2007, we can certainly count among them the World Cups, which thrilled players and experts alike. In Canada, the U-20s showed that they are only a step away from reaching the very top of the game. The same could be said about the U-17s, whose energetic and skilful play in Korea enthralled us all.
The Beach Soccer World Cup and the Club World Cup also contributed to a successful year. The tournament in Japan broke all previous records. Eventual winners AC Milan were meticulous in their preparations for the matches in the Far East, thus clearly illustrating the immense prestige that the Club World Cup enjoys in club circles.
The Women's World Cup in China, meanwhile, was an opportunity for the women to prove that their game has now reached a very high level. The excellent TV viewing figures, the extraordinary number of fans who flocked to the stadiums and the steadily increasing number of female players all around the world are all convincing proof of the development of the women's game.
New course set by the Executive Committee
To allow such success stories to continue, the FIFA Executive Committee passed a number of important decisions at its meeting at the end of October. For example, the hosting of the FIFA World Cup™ will cease to be rotated as from 2018. The rotation system has served its purpose as it has allowed us to take our flagship competition - which is still the ultimate for any footballer - to Africa for the first time and back to South America after a lengthy absence. In Germany in 2011, the women will be welcomed by hosts who are devoted to the development of the game and will continue to help women's football go from strength to strength.
In December the Executive Committee approved the Refereeing Assistance Programme (RAP), a pioneering development concept consisting of the following two related elements:
a) the preparation of potential match officials for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and the professionalisation of refereeing at the top level
b) the development of refereeing at member association level.
The most important features of the programme are its application at national and international level and close cooperation with the confederations, member associations and existing FIFA development officers. An extensive range of courses and workshops, supported by technological aids including internet resources, will also be organised. In total, FIFA plans to invest some USD 40 million in the programme.
In order to protect players, the Executive Committee opted to follow the recommendation tabled by leading medical specialists that matches in FIFA competitions should not be permitted at an altitude in excess of 2,750 metres above sea level unless those involved are allowed to acclimatise. This decision will be integrated into all FIFA competition regulations with immediate effect and it was also recommended that the same limit be enforced in all other international competitions.
In the political arena, as part of the international sporting movement we have witnessed the signing of the European Reform Treaty, which recognises the specific nature of sport for the first time in the history of the European Union. As a result, in the future the special nature of sport - such as its structures based on voluntary activity and its social and educational function - will be taken into account.
These new conditions have come at exactly the right time. The Granada 74 case, for example, showed exactly why sport needs to be kept apart from commercial law. Clubs must only be able to qualify for a higher division through success on the field of play and not be allowed to purchase such an honour by simply changing their location and name. A new article in the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes will put an end to any such notions in the future.
We have also strengthened football's structures with the FIFA Club Licensing Regulations, the revised Players' Agents Regulations and the updated Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. The latter regulations now contain a provision that, in direct response to the Tévez case, will prevent third parties from influencing transfers. Finally, by founding Early Warning System GmbH, FIFA has for a number of months been combating the negative effect that betting can have on football matches.
It is time
By 25 November 2007, if not earlier, the (football) world knew that the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ would be staged in South Africa. Not that this was not public knowledge before. More importantly, the country on the Cape of Good Hope and the local organising committee conducted a brilliantly successful preliminary draw in Durban, giving a very favourable account of themselves and stopping the sceptics in their tracks.
The motto of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, "Ke Nako'. Celebrate Africa's Humanity", was also announced at the draw. It combines two important elements. Ke Nako means "It is time" whereas the second part stands for Africa as the cradle of humankind and humanity.
It is indeed time that we greeted this continent and the host country on an equal footing instead of looking down on them as in the past. But there are still many hurdles to be cleared before we reach 2010 and we cannot expect everything to run like clockwork. But South Africa's determination, readiness and especially its suitability to organise a magnificent World Cup are indisputably there for all to see.
Year ends with glittering gala
In Brazilians Kaká and Marta, the head coaches and captains of 160 national teams selected two great personalities as the FIFA World Player and Women's World Player of the Year 2007.
Kaká's triumph is most notably due to his outstanding performances for AC Milan, with whom he won this year's UEFA Champions League. Marta once again won over the head coaches and captains of 137 women's national teams with her outstanding performances, particularly at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007.
I was also able to honour Pelé with the FIFA Presidential Award, thus paying tribute to a living legend for his extraordinary services to football. Barcelona, a club that has always rejected lucrative shirt sponsorship deals, won the FIFA Fair Play Award. Since last year, the club's scarlet-and-blue shirts have carried the UNICEF logo and over a five-year period "Barça" will be donating a total of EUR 7.5 million to HIV/AIDS projects run by the United Nations' Children's Fund, thus living up to their motto, "More than a club".
Anticipation ahead of 2008 tournaments
Even though the World Cup qualifiers have already started in some confederations, 2008 will witness several other tournaments too. The two women's youth tournaments - the U-17 in New Zealand and the U-20 in Chile - will throw the spotlight on the other half of humanity who are playing an increasingly important role in football. The women footballers will be attracting at least 50% of public attention at the Olympic Football Tournaments in Beijing and other Chinese cities, given that their tournament will be contested by the countries' senior teams, although the men's tournament will be no less appealing. Experience has shown that the U-23 national teams, rounded off with three older players, usually present the next generation of first-rate players who will be leaving their mark on future World Cups.
We can also look forward to the Beach Soccer World Cup, to be held this summer for the first time in the French city of Marseilles, not Rio de Janeiro. To make up for it, Brazil will be welcoming the world's futsal elite to the sixth Futsal World Cup in October whereas Japan will be entertaining the world's best clubs at the Club World Cup for the fourth time around.
Before these two treats awaiting us in the second part of 2008, Sydney will be the backdrop to the FIFA Congress in May. For the first time in the history of FIFA, our football parliament will be guests "Down Under" in Oceania, although in footballing terms Australia now belongs to the Asian Football Confederation. It is indeed time for FIFA to experience this premiere in a history spanning over 100 years.
True to our mission and values
We shall continue to do everything in our power this year to develop the game, touch the world and build a better future - not only on the pitch but also beyond. Not alone, but with the teamwork of the entire football family.
This is because football is a team sport in which the principles of discipline and respect - towards team-mates and opponents, coaches and officials, spectators and fans and the media and business partners - must be upheld at all times.
I wish all members of the football family health, luck and happiness in 2008 as well as continued enjoyment in and from our beautiful game. There will certainly be no shortage of new challenges ahead and it is therefore incumbent on us all to think and act with greater positivity, honesty, solidarity and fair play.
Our game has to constantly reinvent itself so that it can survive. I intend to tackle these new challenges from the very top, as your re-elected President and as the symbolic centre-forward in our FIFA team. For the Game. For the World.
Joseph S. Blatter