'No, I am not of any nationality . . . I am of FIFA and my loyalty is to

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 June, 1998, 12:00am

IF Sepp Blatter's push for the FIFA presidency flounders in Paris tomorrow, it will not be for lack of trying.

In attempting to garner the necessary number of votes to secure victory over UEFA's Lennart Johansson, Blatter has left nothing to chance.

Since announcing his decision to run for one of the most powerful jobs in world sport three months ago, Blatter has campaigned relentlessly - promising, persuading and sounding out national football associations all over the world.

Over the past several days, Blatter has travelled from Zurich to Beijing to Hong Kong, back to Zurich, on to Liberia then to Algeria before heading back to Paris to prepare for the finals.

In Paris tomorrow, when FIFA's members finally cast their votes to decide what has been a bitter and twisted election battle, Blatter will learn if his accumulated air-miles have done the trick.

During his campaign, Blatter has dished out various promises. In Hong Kong last week, he mentioned the possibility of a FIFA football school being launched in the SAR and China.

Asia might also field as many as six teams in the 2002 World Cup finals, he added. Which confederation would have its allotted number of places cut in four years time he did not say, but the smart money is on Europe. 'One can ask if this is solidarity or not,' Blatter remarked when discussing the 15 places claimed by UEFA for this year's tournament.

In Africa on Tuesday, Blatter said that the 2006 World Cup should be staged on the continent.

One of Blatter's buzzword's is 'continuity'. The laws of the game are sacrosanct, Blatter insisted last week. Television must not be allowed to interfere, he said.

'Being attractive to television, and television paying a lot of money to football, the danger is that economical partners would like to interfere with the game,' Blatter said when asked to comment on the challenges facing football.

'We must make sure that the game remains as it is, the universality of the laws of the game must be maintained. We cannot have the laws of the game for professional football and the laws of the game for grass-roots football. We must have the same rules everywhere - this is one of the dangers,' he said.

One of Blatter's main proposed changes to FIFA will be the setting up of a streamlined inner cabinet of seven members, which will challenge the position of the 15-member executive committee. Blatter says the move will speed up decision making; his critics claim it is an anti-democratic measure.

But perhaps a bigger plank of Blatter's campaign has been his willingness to warn of European dominance in the world game, a shrewd tactic which may well win him wide support across Asia and Africa.

As last weekend's impromptu press conference with Blatter at the Conrad Hotel began to disperse, the Swiss delivered what amounted to a rallying call against increasing European influence in the world game.

On the other side, Europe is the most powerful football continent, there is no doubt about it,' he said.

'They have the best football, the best competitions, the money, the stadia - they are the best. The world of football cannot exist without Europe. We need Europe.

'But the world of football fears that if UEFA's president takes over FIFA, then Europe will have even more influence in the football of the future - more teams in the World Cup, more members of the committees.

'Europe has already more than 50 per cent of all members in the FIFA committees - in the executive committee they have eight members. If they have the president, then they will have nine members.' Stirring stuff. But is it not strange to hear such a strident anti-European stance coming from someone who was, after all, born in Switzerland? 'No, I am not of any nationality. I am of FIFA and my loyalty is to football. I stand before you as someone who loves football,' Blatter said. 'It is as simple as that.'