Blathering Blatter prone to blurting out ill-timed bloopers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 1999, 12:00am

It would be far more appropriate if FIFA's new president was called blather, not Blatter.

Talking foolishly, although never stupidly, is a stock in trade of Joseph S. Blatter, the man entrusted with guiding international football into the new millennium.

Blatter, a linguist, has an uncanny ability to come out with ill-advised and ill-timed comments in several languages.

Without a prior word to any of his confidantes, never mind his FIFA colleagues, he proposed the most sweeping change in the history of football - staging the World Cup every two years.

Planting the seed of this revolutionary idea in the media before putting it before the FIFA executive was foolish, but not entirely stupid.

His statement has started the sporting debate of the century and the decision-makers will be fully aware of public opinion by the time they come to vote on the question.

Nevertheless, it was misguided of Blatter to air his opinion without first preparing the ground work. He has further alienated the likes of UEFA president Lennart Johansson, who he defeated in an acrimonious battle for the FIFA presidency, and shocked Asian Football Confederation general secretary Peter Velappan. Surely, it would have been better to have Johansson and Velappan on side before raising the topic in the press. There's nothing worse for power-brokers than to be left out.

Johansson, who views Blatter as both an innovator and a maverick, expressed surprise that he had gone back to the 'old system' of talking first and taking questions later.

Velappan was 'shocked' that Blatter had not informed football insiders of his proposal before floating it in the press. 'I heard about this on the radio,' said Velappan. 'I think the idea would cheapen the World Cup.' There again that was a knee-jerk reaction from Velappan, who was not given the opportunity to think the proposal through as, like the rest of the football world, it came at him like a Roberto Carlos free-kick.

Johansson and Velappan may well be swayed by arguments within FIFA, and from football fans worldwide who seem to be divided on the World Cup issue, but their distrust of Blatter and his shoot-from-the-lip ways will have deepened.

Blatter says that he wants the World Cup to be held every two years to promote and protect international football. European club football, he believes, is spinning out of control with too many games, too much television coverage and too much control being exerted by mega-media groups.

There is a ready-made solution to the problem that would satisfy spectators worldwide but power-hungry FIFA will not go near it.

Scrapping the age limit for the Olympic football tournament would create a second World Cup with the qualifying system already in place. But this formula would give far too much influence to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and that's certainly not part of Blatter's agenda.

He did tell IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch last week that FIFA might allow five, up from the current three, players older than 23 to compete in the Olympic tournament. But no way would Blatter agree to the Games doubling up as a World Cup.

Samaranch's dream that 'all 11 players are fielded at the Olympics without an age limit' will remain just that as long as Blatter continues.