Blatter: "Football can help bring about peace"
Following the meeting of the Organising Committee for the Olympic Football Tournaments, FIFA held a press conference on Wednesday 25 August in its offices at the Hotel Metropolitan in Athens. Mr. Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA Vice President and President of the Organising Committee for the Olympic Football Tournaments Mr. Issa Hayatou, ATHOC Football Tournaments Manager Mr. Patrick Comninos, and Greece Football Association President Mr. Vassilis Gagatsis and FIFA General Secretary Urs Linsi gave their assessments of the two Olympic Football Tournaments. The issues addressed included the performance of Iraq, the success of the South American sides and the attendances at the matches. Read on for some selected quotes.
Mr. Issa Hayatou, Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Olympic Football Tournaments
As the Chairman of the Olympic Tournaments, I consider they were both of a high standard, fair play was respected and the organisers did an excellent job. I would like to thank the Greek Organising Committee for that. As for matters on the pitch, I think that the four teams that reached the Finals accurately reflect the quality of play we have seen.
Mr. Vassilis Gagatsis, President of the Greece Football Association
I would like to express my gratitude to FIFA for their support and the trust they placed in us. Our co-operation worked perfectly. The reason I am at this conference today is simply to appeal to Greek fans to turn up to watch the Finals. I know Greek fans are wild about football, especially since UEFA EURO 2004, so I'm calling on them all to come to the stadiums! We cannot apply to host major events in the future if the stadiums are not full.
Mr. Patrick Comninos, ATHOC Football Tournaments Manager
Organising these two distinct football tournaments has been a tremendous experience. We've been working on this project for the last four years and I'm very proud of how things have gone so far. Everyone, from FIFA to the referees and the teams, has given me very positive feedback.
There are three main legacies from these tournaments:
- Infrastructural heritage: we now have five top-class stadiums that can be used in various FIFA and UEFA competitions and, most of all, for domestic football.
- The human factor: the tournaments provided the staff and all the volunteers with a unique experience, one that they will never forget. Some 500 of them helped stage these Tournaments and I am proud of the way they acquitted themselves.
- The crowds showed up and were able to appreciate two well-organised tournaments. Already 350,000 people have passed through the turnstiles and this figure should rise to 500,000 after the Finals. What's more, the crowds featured many women, children and families, and that's a new thing for Greece and something I'm especially pleased about.
Mr. Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA President
I have really enjoyed the hospitality shown by this country. We have been privileged enough to play in five different cities and this Thursday we are going to attend the Women's Final here in Athens in the home stadium of Olympiakos. I would like to say a big 'thank-you' and fully recognise the enormous efforts put in by the organisers to get all the logistics right. It was no easy task to host so many teams and officials and arrange for them to travel all over the country, especially in view of all the security precautions that had to be taken, but everything went very smoothly. I know how hard it can be to ensure all the different infrastructure continues to be used after the Olympic Games, but this city now has many amenities, such as the tram-way, that will serve it well for many years to come. However, the main legacies of this event for Greece cannot be quantified: they are the memories and the wonderful human relationships that have emerged from it.
On the Men's Tournament
The standard was very high. There are no easy teams any more. All the matches were very closely contested and, in the end, two South Americans teams have made it through to the Final. Who would have predicted at the outset that the two CONMEBOL representatives would go all the way? What pleased me the most however was that the quarter-finals featured one African team, two Asian countries, a CONCACAF side and one team from the OFC, all of which goes to prove that standards are rising right across the world.
I am very proud that the Iraqis made it to the semi-final because their success is due in part to our efforts to stimulate the renaissance of Iraqi football in spite of the very confused situation in that country. Those efforts enabled them to contest the qualifiers for both the Asian Cup and this Olympic Tournament, all of which they played away from home. I take my hat off to the Iraqis and would also like to thank the whole football family, the national associations - especially Jordan - and the Asian Confederation who have all worked so hard to make this achievement possible. I must emphasise that this is a football endeavour, a matter for the football community; it has nothing to do with politics. And the end result is that on Friday, Iraq will bid to win the Bronze Medal. Who would have thought such a feat possible a short time ago? The occasion gives me the opportunity to convey a message: football can help bring about peace. It cannot secure peace by itself, but it can contribute towards it. Over the last few days, instead of tears and sadness, there has been joy and smiles in the streets of Baghdad. All around the world, football is the people's sport. It's very important to stress that fact here at the Olympic Games.
The Final will take place in the Olympic Stadium in front of 30 or 40,000 people. Everyone should invite the volunteers and come at 10 o'clock in the morning to experience this great Final between two excellent teams, Argentina and Paraguay. The fact that the stadiums have not been full does not cast any doubt on the participation of football in the Olympic Games because despite everything, our sport was the one that attracted the highest number of spectators after athletics, which are the traditional showpiece of the Games.
On the Women's Tournament
The system of having groups of four and another of three was not fair. It was not by chance that the two finalists came from a four-team group. Football is about building momentum, and it is impossible to get into rhythm in a group of three. The upshot is that the Final is a repeat of one of the first-round matches.
Having said that, there's no doubt it will still be a top-quality final. Just as with the men, the standard of play in the women's tournament was very high. I saw the first-round game in Patras, which the US won 2-0. Greek football now has five superb stadiums that will enable it to apply to host competitions such as the Confederations Cup, the World Youth Championship and even a World Cup. Any country that can handle the Olympic Games is also capable of hosting the World Cup. To be given this honour, of course, the Greeks will have to fill the stadiums, even when their own team is not playing.
With just four matches remaining we are yet to record a single case of doping. 192 tests have been carried out and all have been negative. We keep our fingers crossed that there will be no nasty surprises ahead. I believe that ever since we took the decision to fight against this scourge, the checks have been effective. I'm not saying there are no cheaters, I'm saying we have to get rid of them. To repeat: FIFA is doing and will continue to do everything it can to fight doping.