Blatter: A big improvement

Ahead of attending Thursday's FIFA Women's World Cup semi-final match between USA and Brazil, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter gave a press conference to reflect on progress made at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 and to promote the forthcoming FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cups.

Opening remarks on China 2007 and the future of the women's game
It's a real pleasure and honour for me as FIFA President to be here in this city for the second semi-final of a FIFA Women's World Cup that has been organised so brilliantly by the Football Federation of China under the chairmanship of Xie Yalong. Within this compliment, I include all the Local Organising Committees in the fives cities in which we have played: Chengdu, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan and Shanghai. I must also say that I have appreciated the work of the FIFA Organising Committee under Worawi Makudi and of all the different groups of FIFA colleagues working within that.

Here today, we have one of biggest matches, a game that would have deserved to be the final. Compliments also to the Chinese people for the attendances. We have an average of over 38,000 and I'm sure the record will be broken. Thank you too to the media, who have supported the competition, making sure women's football is seen at its best and showing that here in China that we have this great spectacle of women's football.

But women's football does not stop today, nor on Sunday. We will take that on in August next year with the Olympics, which for the first time will feature 12 women's teams. Then, in the second half of the autumn, we will have the FIFA Women's U-17 World Cup, the newest competition of FIFA, and the U-20 equivalent in Chile, so you will see in the different continents women's football at its best next year. Plus, there is no World Cup or Youth World Cup competition for the men next year, so it will be FIFA's year for women's football.

Don't forget, tomorrow and the day after, we have an international women's football symposium in Shanghai. There will be 500 participants, with representatives from women's football all around the world, showing that women's football takes a very important position within FIFA.


On England not being allowed to compete at the Olympics despite finishing as one of Europe's top three teams
Contrary to the structure of the Olympic games, in FIFA the UK countries divided into four separate national associations - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - but when comes to the Olympics there is no England team, there is only the possibility for a Great British team. The privilege that we afford to individual associations is no longer valid for the Olympics, and that is why the England team cannot qualify for the next Olympic games. It's that simple.

Definitely, when London hosts the Olympics, the women's and men's team will automatically qualify to play, but they will play under the nomination of Great Britain. But for 2008 they need to qualify and they cannot qualify as Great Britain as they have not entered the competition as Great Britain. It doesn't matter to us if they decide to enter as one team, but then they would lose all their current privileges, there would be no Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish national teams and leagues. Can you imagine what British football would look like?

On increasing funding for women's football to national associations from the current FIFA-stipulated level of 10 per cent
I agree that 10 per cent is not enough, although indirectly we are already seeing that more is getting through. But what I will propose to the Executive Committee is that we go to 20 per cent, which is 100 per cent more than the current level. We also have other projects and development programmes for referees and coaches, plus the Goal Projects can also be requested for the use of women's football, and they are worth $400,000.

What is missing is the initiative of some of the national associations. Football is very macho at the level of organisation, and this is not correct. I've said for many years now that it should be all for football, football for all, and we need more women in positions of authority within football. Unfortunately, the Executive Committee is not elected by the FIFA Congress, otherwise we could insist on women making up one fifth of the football family. As it is, they are elected by their confederations, although what we may do is look as co-opting a woman on to the Executive Committee.

On the technical level of the tournament
Generally speaking, I think there has been a big improvement in the individual technique of all the teams, and also in the rhythm and speed of the games. There has also been an improvement, although not with all teams, in the tactics. Compared to the 2003 Women's World Cup in the USA, it's clear women's football has now reached a very good quality, but not yet in all continents. But it is now our duty to develop women's football in all continents, and you will see that we are locating the U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cups in regions where development is required.

Generally speaking, I have witnessed live a lot of matches at this tournament and most on television, and I have been pleasantly surprised to see that individual technique has improved so well. It is clear that women at this level are now able to deal with principles of good professional football; the only thing we are missing is professional leagues. There are still so few of them in women's football.


On China's chances of a successful bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
It is very easy to answer that question. From the stadia we have seen available for the Women's World Cup and from what I know to be available for the Olympics, there is no doubt that China is able to bid for and organise a FIFA World Cup. However, we have not yet decided on the rotation system. That decision will come at the end of October, so I cannot say they could compete for the 2018 tournament. But once again, from a FIFA perspective, we give China's organisation of this competition five stars.