Fifa president Sepp Blatter admitted on Saturday that mistakes had been made but said there was no point living with regrets after a year of “ups and downs” for football’s world governing body.
Speaking in Tokyo on the eve of the Club World Cup final between Barcelona and Brazil’s Santos, Blatter — who faced calls for his resignation last month over his comments on racism — vowed to carry on and strive to improve Fifa.
Asked if he had any regrets and would do anything differently after a year in which the powerful organisation was bedevilled by accusations of corruption, he said: “Yes. But you can’t live with regrets.
“You must look with a positive approach. I still have the energy to go forward. I believe myself that we can go forward.”
He added: “I said [to fellow Fifa members] that you can’t go back to the past and with regrets for the past. That’s what I’ve said.”
It has been a turbulent year for Fifa with allegations of graft in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and former Asian football chief Mohamed bin Hammam’s lifetime ban for allegedly trying to buy votes in the Fifa presidential election.
‘Not the best’
The 75-year-old Blatter, who has garnered a reputation for a long line of public relations gaffes, himself faced a storm of criticism when he said claims of racism on the pitch should be solved with a handshake.
He told media in the Japanese capital that the biggest mistake had been choosing the two World Cup hosts — Russia in 2018 and Qatar for 2022 — at the same time. That had been “totally wrong” and “not the best”, he said.
“You can’t change it, the past is the past,” he said. “Now we need to look forward.”
He said that in the first half of the year especially “our boat was not on still waters. Now we bring it back to port”.
Fifa earlier this month said it had to delay plans to publish files related to its relationship with former marketing partner International Sport and Leisure (ISL) because of a legal challenge.
Last year, BBC documentary Panorama claimed that ISL — who had obtained exclusive marketing rights for the World Cup before being liquidated in 2001 — had offered payments to three Fifa executive committee members, including Issa Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Laid to rest
Blatter backed Hayatou — who denies the claims — as “a good member of the executive committee”.
“Fifa needs to lay this to rest,” he said.
The Fifa president, who was re-elected in June to another four-year term as Fifa’s president after winning a vicious battle with his rival bin Hammam, said reforms of the world body would drive it forward.
Fifa needed to “take care of public opinion”, he said, speaking after a committee meeting in Tokyo. “We will carry out if necessary the pertinent reforms,” he said.
Despite criticism, Blatter has earned a reputation as a shrewd and ruthless political operator during his 13-year tenure at Fifa, which has grown to become the world’s richest sports body with cash reserves of over $1-billion.
Fifa’s finances were “wonderful”, he said, adding that the body’s “good governance process” launched to clean up its tattered reputation would be completed by June 2013.
In the same breath, Blatter said there were concerns about preparations for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, adding he was taking action personally and will meet the government in the new year.
“The executive committee is worried about that,” he said when asked about preparations for the showpiece tournament, which have been dogged by fears they are running behind schedule.
The world footballing body said it had received positive news about stadium construction, but not about the necessary government guarantees on the organisation of the event.
“We are concerned,” said Jerome Valcke, Fifa secretary-general.
“Clearly Brazil is not advanced in preparations for the World Cup,” he said in Tokyo, citing a lack of infrastructure including a new airport and poor public transport and roads.
According to a report by the Getulio Vargas Foundation and the consultancy Ernst & Young, Brazil needs more than $11-billion in investment to fix roads, boost hotel capacity, reinforce security and develop its telecommunications network ahead of the Cup.
Last month Fifa warned Brazil anew about delays in construction projects expected to be ready for the quadrennial extravaganza.
Brazilian authorities are racing to build or renovate 12 stadiums in time for the event and Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo pledged earlier this month that work on the venues will largely be completed ahead of schedule.
Blatter and Valcke were speaking after a meeting of Fifa’s executive committee in the Japanese capital. — AFP