Exclusive: Blatter hails London 2012 football tournament as best in his time at FIFA
Thursday, 09 August 2012
August 9 - "Absolutely" the best Olympic football tournament in his time at FIFA.
That was how Sepp Blatter, President of world football's governing body, described the London 2012 competition in a short interview here tonight, just before kick-off of the women's gold medal match between the United States and Japan (pictured top).
Sitting in this gigantic arena on a perfect summer's evening, with perhaps 90 per cent of the seats taken, while the world's best two women's international teams went at each other hammer and tongs – but without, so far as I could see, a trace of malice – you would be hard put not to agree.
It is a big statement, mind: as the 76-year-old reminded me, he has been with FIFA for 37 years since joining as technical director in 1975.
Blatter is not in any doubt, though.
"Really the best," he reiterated.
"A great, great moment."
He elaborated further as a nearby television screens pictures of a beach volleyball match between Latvia and the Netherlands from picturesque Horse Guards Parade in central London.
"Football is back in the homeland of football..."
"The response of the public in England – a little bit less in Scotland – has been phenomenal."
While the Football Association would have preferred this to be a sort of dry run for the 2018 men's World Cup, let's hope that this Olympic competition has served to mop up some of the bad blood left over from a bidding battle that was won by Russia – a far from stupid place for football's flagship international tournament from FIFA's perspective.
I cannot think that a better women's football match than tonight's final – won 2-1 by the US – has ever been played in the United Kingdom.
These – last year's World Cup finalists, in a match won on penalties by Japan – are demonstrably the best women's sides in the world.
Nonetheless, Blatter made the point that, having "carefully followed both women's semi-finals", both matches "could have gone either way".
The Swiss has famously been criticised in the past for comments about the women's game, notably in 2004 when he was reported to have suggested that women should play in "more feminine clothes".
But he reminded me that in 1995 he had said that the future of football was feminine, and that now there were 30 million female players
"Women's football is growing and growing," he said.
When I asked about tonight's massive crowd – tallied officially at a record 80,203, although this did not prevent there being several gaping rows of empty red seats – he waxed characteristically poetic, likening the scene to "a caravan in the desert when you see all these people coming into the stadium".
With the average attendance for London 2012 matches hovering around 46,000, in spite of the last-ditch decision to remove half a million football tickets from sale, it has been a pretty big caravan.
"The total will be more than Los Angeles in 1984," Blatter confirmed.
"But in Los Angeles there was no women's football."
How did he react to those who persist in saying that football should not be an Olympic sport?
"That is wrong," he retorted.
"We have a 100-year tradition of being in the Olympics.
"The only Olympics when football was not admitted was the 1932 Games because it was two years after the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said footballers were professionals and could not compete."
What would he say when speaking to the medallists, in a ceremony also featuring fellow FIFA office holders Jeffrey Webb, Worawi Makudi and Marios Lefkaritis, as well as one of the world's longest purple podiums?
"I will congratulate them, and I will thank them for the quality of their football and their fair play," he replied.
The result was a little hard on Japan – playing in the same red and white colours in which England's men won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966 – whose inventive passing game created numerous chances.
That said, the more physically imposing US women looked capable of scoring whenever a cross made its way into the Japan penalty area.
With Tokyo bidding for the 2020 Summer Games, the Asian nation has been fretting about its shortage of London 2012 gold medals.
At time of writing, they had just five – putting them 12th in the medals table, far behind South Korea – although Japan has the sixth-biggest overall medals total.
It will have come as another disappointment that their world champion women's footballers were not able to add Olympic gold to their collection of silverware.
Make no mistake, though, there are ways in which they have raised the bar in the women's game.
This result should in no way deter bid leaders from making the most of their achievements – and in particular those of captain Aya Miyama – as they seek to piece together a competitive campaign.
To read Lloyd brace earns United States football gold and last laugh after World Cup tears click here.
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